Okay, my favorite part of the the third-season finale of Discovery is the ending: the closing credits, which employs the closing-credits music from the original series. This probably would’ve been even niftier last week, which was the 800th installment of Trek onscreen, but it’s still a nifty little call-back to end this season, and as we just completed a year that had three new seasons of Trek in it.
The episode’s ending prior to the credits also isn’t a cliffhanger, which is a welcome relief, frankly.
There’s, um, a lot going on here, most of it good, some of it head-scratching, none of it actively horrible, though there were some moments there where I was really worried. And that non-cliffhangery ending is wonderful in so many ways, but the status quo it leaves for our two leads is problematic.
Before we get to that, though, we have this action-packed thrill ride of an episode, one that has a 61-minute running time. There’s Burnham, Book, and the bridge crew working to take Discovery back from Osyraa, and then there’s Saru, Culber, and Adira trying to find their way off Su’Kal’s deteriorating holodeck program—with help from Gray!
This hugely sophisticated holodeck program that can turn Saru into a human, Burnham into a Trill, and Culber into a Bajoran also turns Adira into a Xahean and Gray into, not just a Vulcan, but also a solid hologram. This allows Gray to participate in the mission and talk to everyone and also actually touch Adira (and hug Culber). Adira’s presence has already helped in that they brought meds with them (which they kept in their mouth so the meds wouldn’t be transformed by the holodeck), and Gray is able to move through the damaged exit (which would be fatal to a living person) to assess the damage to the ship.
I thought the bizarre alteration of people to a different species was a bit odd, but it does give us one of the best moments of the episode. The fear that Su’Kal needs to face in order to banish the monster and finally shut down the holodeck is the fear of being alone. He was just a child and the last one left alive, and he saw everyone else die—including his mother. We see the final recording of his mother dying, an event that so traumatized Su’Kal that it caused the Burn. (The reasons are given by Culber in a bio-technobabble infodump involving the radiation affecting him in vitro and dilithium and subspace and other such nonsense.) Su’Kal is reminded that he’s alone, but then he turns around and, for the first time, sees Saru as he really is: another Kelpien.
Bill Irwin’s work as Su’Kal here is superb, as is Doug Jones’. The sheer wonder in Su’Kal when he sees another Kelpien for the first time in a century is a joy to behold. And it’s a very Star Trek story: the Burn was caused, not by an antagonist or a malevolent force, but by a child devastated by the death of a parent.
The other half of the story is less Star Trek and more action-movie, continuing from last week, and while some of it is fun, I find myself less able to recall too many specifics, nor to be that interested in doing so. There’s a lot of shooting back and forth and riding on turbolifts (in those ridiculously wide-open turboshafts that take up way more space than makes any sense in a ship of Discovery’s size) and leaping around and kicking and punching and it’s just not that compelling overall.
However, there are moments. Burnham getting herself and Book out of sickbay (where the latter is being tortured) by activating a quarantine field is genius. Osyraa pushing Burnham into a wall of programmable matter is an effectively horrifying visual. And best of all, the bridge crew saves the day even though they can barely breathe.
My favorite part of the ship-board portion was writer Michelle Paradise and the rest of the gang understanding something basic about science that is often missed. If you shut off life support on a spaceship, that doesn’t mean that from that moment forward, the area is uninhabitable. The air that was already there is still there. What turning off life-support would do is keep any fresh air from coming in, which means that, if you’re in that area, your air supply will continue to dwindle and the carbon dioxide in the air will increase. We see those effects on Tilly, Detmer, Bryce, Rhys, Ina, and Owosekun, with only the latter—whose background includes deep-sea diving and training in how to manage her breath—able to make it to the nacelles to perform the sabotage necessary to get Discovery out of warp.
That part also looked to piss me off, because it seriously seemed like Owosekun was going to have to sacrifice herself to save the ship. Luckily, the kill-your-POCs cliché was avoided by giving us instead the old Trek standby of the everyone-survives-the-suicide-mission cliché, in this case with Owosekun saved by one of the Dot-23s that was loaded with the Sphere Data.
Still, the taking back of the ship, while visually exciting and tense, is pretty much standard stuff. Burnham convinces Vance to let Discovery go with its hostages, and her argument pretty much boils down to, “We’re the stars of the show, so we have to be the ones to handle it,” which makes nothing like actual sense. A fleet from Ni’Var shows up, and then doesn’t do anything particularly useful. The final fight scene between Osyraa and Burnham is so constructed it’s hard to really be invested in it.
Osyraa herself, after gaining significant depth in the last two episodes, reverts back to the mustache-twirling bad guy she was in “The Sanctuary.” This does Janet Kidder no favors, as her dialogue is reduced to the usual cliché nonsense, and it all boils down to a Final Fight between her and Burnham. Snore.
The day is saved in the end because of Book’s empathy with alien animals, established way back in “That Hope is You, Part 1” at the top of the season. (And as an aside, not doing Part 2 until 12 episodes later? Really, guys? Then again, this is a season that has the third part of a story cycle that started in 1991, so whatever…) This means he, too, can operate the spore drive, especially since 32nd-century technology has made the interface a bit less exclusive. They overload the warp core, dump it in Veridian, and then black-alert themselves away before it goes boom.
Our season ends on a hopeful note all around. Discovery is able to rescue the away team and Su’Kal, and now there’s a new source of dilithium! The Emerald Chain is shattered, as both Osyraa and her flagship are toast. (Aurellio, who discovers just how awful Osyraa really is, survives, and joins the crew in the end.) Both Trill and Ni’Var are in talks to rejoin the Federation. Discovery is tasked with using the spore drive to bop back and forth between the nebula and various locations to provide them with dilithium.
The closing scene has some nice cameos, including Karen Robinson’s Leader Pav of Trill, Tara Rosling’s Ni’Var President T’Rina, and Adil Hussin’s Lieutenant Sahil (who I really wish had played a bigger role in this season).
And then we have the problematic part of the ending: Saru takes Su’Kal back to Kaminar to help him regain the life he’s lost and familiarize him with the home he’s only been taught about. Vance then gives Burnham command of Discovery, complete with promotion to captain.
While this keeps Discovery’s tradition of having a new captain every year, I’m not entirely happy about Saru being pushed aside like this. Saru is Discovery’s best character, and while there’s no news one way or the other about whether or not Jones will be back, even if Saru does come back, what happens to him? A ship can’t have two captains, and Burnham is now firmly ensconced in the center seat. Mind you, it all makes sense in-story, as Saru has a bond with Su’Kal, and the 125-year-old child will need significant guidance. (Plus he’s still kinda dangerous…) Still, I don’t particularly want to lose this great character, nor see him lose the captaincy he deserves.
Having said that, it does bring Burnham’s journey to its logical next step, as she finally attains the command that Captain Georgiou of the Shenzhou was grooming her for before the Battle of the Binary Stars.
The story possibilities for season four are endless, as Discovery helps put the Federation back together and brings hope to the galaxy. Plus, of course, without Osyraa around, there are a lot of criminal elements that will try to fill the power vacuum. There’s the determination to find a way to have Gray be corporeal again. There’s the hints Book dropped about his mentor after whom he’s named himself. And Stamets and Burnham’s friendship has been sundered and will need to be repaired (especially with her as captain now). Real curious to see what happens next.
Keith R.A. DeCandido wishes everyone the happiest of new years, and urges everyone to look for the third-season overview next week.