Yippee-Ki-Yay, Michael Burnham! — Star Trek: Discovery’s “There Is A Tide…”

When Die Hard came out in the summer of 1988, nobody had particularly high expectations for it. Just another summer blow-’em-up, whose lead was a smirky TV star best known for his quips on Moonlighting, seemingly miscast as an action hero.

It became not just a hit movie, but also a trope. Tons of TV shows and movies have riffed on it, or at least used it as a logline (“It’s Die Hard, but on a train!” and so on). Star Trek has done Die Hard riffs before (TNG’s “Starship Mine,” Voyager’s “Macrocosm“), and now Discovery takes its turn as Burnham, Book, and the bridge crew work to take the ship back from Osyraa.

There’s a lot to like about “There is a Tide…” only some of which involves the Die Hard riff. But what’s great about the action-movie parts of the episode is that there is very little of the stupid plot tricks that tend to mar such plotlines. It starts with Osyraa not going right away into Starfleet HQ, but (a) having a plan and (b) not being able to implement that plan until her crew has the hang of running the ship.

That’s right, strangers take over the ship and don’t know how to operate it all right away. (Yes, Kazons in Voyager’s “Basicstwo-parter, I’m looking at you.) This would be expected anyhow given the fragmented nature of the galaxy and the secretive nature of 32nd-century Starfleet, exacerbated in this case by Discovery being a kitbash of 23rd- and 32nd-century tech.

Once they do have full control of the ship, there’s just one bit of the computer they can’t seem to deal with—it appears to be a bunch of old movies. This will probably be important later…

The slow takeover of ship’s systems also conveniently provides enough time for Book and Burnham to get to Starfleet HQ via normal warp drive. Of course, by the time they arrive, Osyraa’s plan is 90% in place: have her ship, the Veridian, fire on Discovery as they’re approaching Starfleet HQ, so Admiral Vance will let them in without fuss because they’re under fire. It almost works, too, except at the last minute, Book’s ship shows up and crashes into Discovery’s shuttle bay. This is enough to make Vance suspicious, and while it’s too late for him to close the door on Discovery, he does surround the ship with a small fleet with phasers all pointed at it.

Which leads to the absolute best parts of the episode, which involve none of the main cast, but which is some of the best-written stuff we’ve seen on Discovery: Osyraa’s negotiations with Vance.

I was really worried that Vance was going to fall into the tired Trek stereotype of the Evil Admiral. The niftiness of the only other admiral we’ve seen for more than half a second on the show—Jayne Brook’s excellent Admiral Cornwell—ameliorated this concern somewhat, but still.

So it’s been a joy to see that Oded Fehr’s Vance is a well-rounded, intelligent character who isn’t just there to be an obstruction. And he absolutely hits it out of the park when he and Janet Kidder’s Osyraa sit down to negotiate. It’s to Kidder’s credit that she holds her own with an actor of Fehr’s calibre, continuing the good work she started last week, after a bad first impression in “The Sanctuary.”

It helps that they both have good material to work with: Kenneth Lin’s script is superb, giving us one of the best two-parties-negotiating scenes in Trek history. Osyraa surprises everyone (including the viewers) by coming to the Federation with a proposal: the Emerald Chain and the Federation becoming partners and allies.

Star Trek: Discovery "There Is A Tide"

Credit: CBS

On the face of it, it makes sense from Osyraa’s perspective. As Ryn informed Discovery’s crew, the Chain’s supply of dilithium is critically low, and that’s the main source of her stranglehold on her territory and people. But she also has a lot of territory, a lot of people, and, as we learn this week, an impressive cadre of scientists. (More on that in a bit.)

Vance is understandably skeptical, especially since the only reason Osyraa is talking to Vance instead of being atomized dust from all the ships surrounding Discovery is because she has the bridge crew hostage. (She let the rest of the crew go as a goodwill gesture to Vance.) He is impressed, however, with her detailed plan for the alliance.

And then negotiations break down, because Vance hits her with a stipulation she obviously wasn’t expecting and won’t go through with. Osyraa’s own history as an antagonistic force to, y’know, everyone means she can’t be the head of the new allied-with-the-Federation Emerald Chain. While she’s willing to step back, she’s not willing to commit to a ruler who isn’t her puppet (she claims to be, mind you, but Eli, the lie-detector hologram played with hilarious blandness by Brendan Beiser, calls her on it), nor is she willing to be arrested and tried for her crimes. Vance insists on that point, because Federation ideals still mean something, and they’re not just going to get into bed with a criminal who claims to have reformed unless she puts her money where her mouth is with regard to that reformation.

These sequences are quick-witted, intelligent, and compellingly played by Fehr, Kidder, and Beiser. From the negotiations themselves to the discussions of Eli (putting a human face on the lie detector was more comforting than red and green lights) and of the food (how it’s pretty much recycled shit), and they’re just as captivating as the action sequences aboard Discovery.

Which, it must be said, are pretty damn captivating. Once again, Discovery neatly avoids the usual stupid writer tricks, this time the one of people in holding cells not having any kind of guards or surveillance on them, thus enabling them to plan and mount escapes without the bad guys realizing it until it’s too late. (Yes, I’m looking at you “The Enterprise Incident” and “Unification II” and “One Little Ship” and every fourth episode of Stargate SG-1 and on and on and on.) The bridge crew has Osyraa’s Regulators right there in the ready room with them guarding their every move and keeping them from talking. Luckily, Starfleet Academy (at least in the 23rd century) trains you in Morse Code, and the gang is able mount an escape by finger-tapping, and it’s a beautiful thing.

Those Regulators of Osyraa’s, by the way, are led by an old friend, as Jake Weber returns as Zareh, having survived his frozen adventure at the end of “Far from Home” (and with a nasty case of frostbite for his trouble), and who’s more than happy to have Tilly and the rest under his thumb.

Burnham, meanwhile, is crawling through the Jefferies Tubes while wearing a lifesign-masker, but she makes the mistake of taking the comms device of one of the Regulators, thus allowing Zareh to find her. (That Regulator also stabbed her, so she’s bleeding from a thigh wound.) But she manages to blow the Regulator who comes after her out an airlock—however, the Regulator in question grabs Burnham’s feet. Burnham saves herself by kicking off her boots.

So now she’s crawling around the duct work, she’s barefoot, she’s bleeding, and in case we weren’t making it obvious that we’re riffing Die Hard enough, Burnham gets on the comms and says, “Hey Zareh, you’re gonna need more Regulators.” Sigh.

That bit of self-indulgence aside, the retaking of Discovery is fun to watch. Jonathan Frakes directs Lin’s script very nicely, intercutting effortlessly between the action sequences and the scenes of people in a room talking. Besides the Vance-Osyraa scenes in the latter category, we also have the Stamets scenes, where he talks with Osyraa’s chief scientist, the chair-bound paraplegic Aurellio. First off, those scenes are both heartening and heartbreaking, as Aurellio is played by Kenneth Mitchell. Having played three different Klingons on Discovery (and also done several voices for Lower Decks), Mitchell was diagnosed with ALS in 2018 and is now wheelchair-bound himself, and I think it’s great that Secret Hideout has continued to employ him, and in a role that he can play despite his sadly deteriorating physical state. Mitchell is also fantastic, both in his rabid scientific curiosity and nerding out with Stamets, and also in his obvious hero-worship of Osyraa, though he is willfully ignorant of her nastier side. That ignorance becomes harder to maintain by the end of the episode, and is likely to be a factor in the next one.

Stamets also gets a brilliantly nasty scene with Burnham, as she rescues him only to shoot him off in an escape pod to Starfleet HQ so that Osyraa doesn’t have access to him and therefore the spore drive. The problem is that Stamets wants to use the spore drive right now this minute (even though they don’t have control of the ship yet) to go back to the Verubin Nebula to rescue Culber, Saru, and Adira. Stamets’s desire is understandable—this is the man he loves, his surrogate child (he even answers in the affirmative when Aurellio asks if he has kids, referring to Adira), and his captain—but Burnham’s actions are absolutely the right ones under the circumstances. Discovery is still in enemy hands, and Stamets is too valuable to leave in Osyraa’s hands. That doesn’t stop Stamets from trying to guilt Burnham by saying that they all jumped to the future for her so that she wouldn’t be alone.

(Speaking of that, we don’t ever get back to the nebula in this episode, so there’s no indication of how Saru, Culber, and Adira are doing with Su’Kal. I’m always sad when there’s an episode that doesn’t include Doug Jones’ Saru, but there’s plenty enough going on here as it is, and presumably we’ll check back in on them next week.)

The bridge crew also gets to shine, mostly in their prison-break scene, and then there’s the very last scene: Tilly, Detmer, Owosekun, Bryce, Rhys, and Ina break into the armory and gear up to take back the bridge, only to find themselves joined by a bunch of the DOT-23s—into which the Sphere Data has downloaded itself. In the same voice that the Sphere Data has used before, and which was the voice of Discovery’s computer in “Calypso,” provided in all cases by Annabelle Wallis, the last line of the episode is, “Shall we take back the ship?”

I said last week that they looked to be ending the calendar year with a bang, and I was definitely right. This is a thrill-ride of an episode with clever writing, superb direction, and great acting. However, that bang isn’t done yet. Presumably next week, which is the end of the entire season, we’ll finish the taking back of the ship, and perhaps rescue the poor radiation-wracked away team that includes the captain, maybe?

Keith R.A. DeCandido is very glad to see the back of 2020 and wishes everyone a safe and happy and healthy 2021.

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