Last time on Star Trek: Discovery.
*****SPACE ICEBERG-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!****
Last week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery, S3.1: “That Hope is You, Part 1,” saw Michael Burnham and the USS Discovery propelled 930 years into a 32nd century where the Federation had fallen over a century earlier due to a galaxy-wide event known as “The Burn,” where most of the warp-powering dilithium crystals in the galaxy destabilized. This week, we get a better look at a small corner of that post-Burn universe, on an icy, isolated world simply known as “the Colony,” where Coridan settlers are routinely bullied and shaken down by cutthroat mercenaries.
“Far From Home.”
With a script credited to Alan B. McElroy, Anthony Maranville, Chris Silvestri and directed (once again) by Olatunde Osunsanmi, “Far From Home” begins exactly where season 2 of Discovery left off; the starship Discovery has made it through the wormhole, and has arrived in a strange new time. Some of the crew are badly injured, and the ship itself is damaged following its harrowing escape from the 23rd century.
Note: In “Far From Home,” we see the wormhole and time traveling causing unconsciousness for the crew. Such consciousness in time/wormhole travel has precedence in Star Trek; “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” “The Voyage Home,” “Clues,” and a few others. This episode offers a reason for it (extreme gravitational stresses, much like early astronauts passing out in centrifuge training for g-forces).
Falling into an unknown icy planet (not their destination of Terralysium), the ship is barely saved from disintegration by a thermal roll expertly executed by helm officer Lt. Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) and Lt. Joann Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo). After successfully piloting the ship to an intact crash landing, Detmer has suffered a head injury near her cybernetic implants. On the order of acting captain Saru (Doug Jones), she reports to sickbay. Commander Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) has also thrown out her back during the wormhole travel.
The ship has crashed in an icy field on an alien world. The atmosphere isn’t entirely compatible with humans, yet can be made breathable with certain medical modifications. The ship is also lodged in what appears to be “parasitic ice”– an ice that exhibits qualities similar to rapid growing bacteria, growing rapidly as the surrounding environment grows colder (not warmer). Damage to the ship is considerable, as long-range sensors and communications are also down. During an engineering survey, Reno (still nursing her back injury) determines they need new rubindium (not quite the real element of rubidium) to rebuild a critical transtator to repair the ship. There is a source of rubindium ahead, in what appears to be a nearby settlement surrounded by an artificially maintained pocket of breathable atmosphere–one of several such pockets scattered on the planet.
Note: The Star Trek fake element of ‘rubindium’ was also mentioned in the TOS episode “Patterns of Force,” where crystals made of the element were used as sub-cutaneous transponders implanted in Kirk and Spock. Spock later cut the crystals out in order to fashion a crude laser in order to escape from a prison in that same episode. ‘Transtators’ were first mentioned as the key to Federation technology in TOS’ “A Piece of the Action.”
The action cuts to the other repairs going on throughout the ship, namely its people. Lt. Detmer’s cranial injury seems to be far more serious than alluded to. She hears a muffled ringing in her head, similar to what sufferers of tinnitus feel. Even after she is cleared for duty, she still feels this aftereffect which may not be entirely physical.
Note: Detmer has required a cybernetic eye and implant following injuries sustained aboard the USS Shenzhou during the Klingon war in the first two episodes of Discovery’s season 1.
Elsewhere in sickbay, Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) is tending his partner, spore drive engineer, Lt. Commander Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), whom he put into a medically induced coma following a massive injury at the end of Season Two . Stamets’ injury is healing, but he’s still a bit wobbly on his feet. However, Culber needs the bio-bed, as a triaged sickbay is full of wounded following the crash landing. They share gratitude and a kiss that they both made it out of the 23rd century alive, right before the still-woozy Stamets is discharged. Damage control personnel throughout the ship are ordered to work in pairs (per Saru’s instructions), and Stamets is paired with his eternally sardonic frenemy Reno. One of their first stops is cleaning up the gooey mess in the spore drive chamber that used to be their mortal enemy, Section 31’s cybernetically-compromised Leland, before he was turned inside out thanks to Section 31 operative, mirror universe-Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh).
Trying to get a fix on where and when they are, Saru holds a briefing in the shattered remains of Pike’s old ready room with Georgiou, Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and former USS Enterprise security chief Nhan (Rachael Ancheril). Fearing the headstrong Georgiou will turn on him the first chance she gets, Saru assigns her to engineering repair along with Nhan, who will keep an eye on her.
Saru also assigns Ensign Tilly to join him in contacting the nearby settlement in the hopes of trading some of their now-antiquated 23rd century technology for much-needed rubindium and possibly locating their missing comrade, Michael Burnham. Wearing nonspecific civilian clothes, Saru determines that the Federation’s Prime Directive of Non-Interference still applies, even if they themselves are now living relics from the past. Receiving their inoculations against the unnamed planet’s native atmosphere, they exit the ship.
Traversing the icy, inhospitable plains together, Tilly once again resumes her habit of babbling when she’s nervous. A very patient Saru reassures her that it’s alright if she babbles, and takes it in stride. Saru chose her for this assignment because she needs the experience if she wishes to further her goal of continuing command training (they don’t yet realize that Starfleet and the Federation have both fallen). The almost-paternal patience and wisdom Saru shows towards the nervous Tilly also shows how far he has come as a character since the first season…
Note: In the show’s first season, Saru’s Kelpien race was defined largely by its hypersensitive awareness of mortality; a near-constant state of fear.
Note: If Saru is to become the permanent captain of the Discovery? I would be totally fine with that. Doug Jones is a marvelous actor, and manages to project considerable personality, even buried under layers of prosthetics. He has worked under heavy makeups for most of his career, in fact (“Hellboy,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the Oscar-winning “Shape of Water,” and many many others). At one of several meet-and-greets I’ve had with Jones, I told him he reminded me of a latter-day Lon Chaney Sr. (the 20th century actor who was a legendary ‘man of a thousand faces’). He gave me a hug! So yeah, I’m an unapologetic fan of both Doug Jones and his character Saru.
Arriving at the settlement, Saru and Tilly find a few paranoid Coridans, former members of the Federation, at a rustic saloon which looks more like something from the 19th century American Wild West than the 32nd century. After initial threats are made and later defused, Tilly befriends a young Coridan named Kal (Jonathan Koensgen), who helps her rebuild a piece of damaged ship’s hardware using a now commonplace ‘programmable matter’ technology we saw in last week’s episode, “That Hope is You, Part 1,” . The Coridans monitored Discovery’s crash and wonder if they were the hope from the past that was promised to them.
Note: It’s an interesting idea to have Saru and Tilly’s first encounter with the far-future to be in a rustic, run-down mining settlement’s old saloon, like something right out of an old western. This defies cliched expectations of the far future depicted as a gleaming metropolis. H.G. Wells did a similar trick by in his 1895 novel, “The Time Machine,” by depicting the year 802,701 being a primitive time where the human race itself had bifurcated and devolved into two codependent, decidedly animalistic species. The “Coridans,” natives of the dilithium-rich Coridan star system, were first mentioned in TOS’ “Journey to Babel” (which saw them admitted to the Federation) and were later seen in the 22nd century prequel series’ Star Trek: Enterprise (“Shadows of P’Jem”).
Mainly through inference, Saru and Tilly realize that the future isn’t what they imagined. They learn about “the Burn”, and that even the world they are on was never even given a proper name–it is known only as “the Colony,” and is home to scattered settlers mining its few natural resources, such as rubindium. They also learn that the ice field they’ve crashed in is living parasitic ice, which will soon envelop their ship as it multiplies–its increased weight crushing Discovery’s hull. The ice will start to multiply rapidly as the local sun goes down. Saru also learns that the paranoid locals are also dreading the return of a local despot named Zareh (Jake Weber) and his henchmen.
Note: Zareh and his henchmen, while clearly patterned after classic western bandit-type villains seen in “The Magnificent Seven” or “Shane”, also reminded me of the latter-day despots “The Governor” and “Negan” from the post-apocalyptic graphic novels and TV series, “The Walking Dead”.
The Coridans urge Saru and Tilly to leave right away, but it’s too late–we see Zareh’s ship arrive to collect his tribute from the frightened Coridans, who are unable to stop the mercenary and his henchmen. Meeting with the bullying Zareh, Saru offers to negotiate with the implacable and unreasonable man, who admits that the Burn was a blessing for people like himself, who see situations like this as opportunities to raid upon weaker types throughout the galaxy, offering some goods to the Coridans in exchange for whatever he can shake down from them. To demonstrate his resolve, Zareh kills young Kal with a tortuous energy weapon that painfully burns its victims one blast at a time, rather than the quick dispatching of a Starfleet phaser.
When Tilly mentions they have precious dilithium aboard Discovery, Zareh offers to spare both of their lives if Saru allows Tilly to go (on foot) back to the ship and retrieve it, keeping Saru as hostage. Zareh orders some of his men to check the perimeter of the settlement to make sure Saru and Tilly were alone. Zareh soon learns they were not. Against orders, Georgiou has escaped from the too-trusting Nhan, and followed Saru and Tilly to the settlement. The gleefully antagonistic Georgiou, who hails from a harsher universe much like this one, delights in provoking her captors, who have no idea with whom they’re dealing. They repeatedly shoot her with short blasts from their weapons, the cumulative effects of which cause her eyes to bleed, but the Section 31 operative refuses to yield.
At the earliest opportunity, Georgiou breaks free, killing Zareh’s henchmen in rapid succession. During the battle, the Kelpien Saru even shoots a few defensive darts from his neck to knock off an attacking henchman. Capturing Zareh, Saru insists that Georgiou spare his life, because murdering a now-helpless opponent is “not who we are.” This admirable display of ethics over revenge makes the local Coridans realize this is the kind of sterling morality and hope these new Starfleet relics from the past offer to their broken, dysfunctional era. Saru and Tilly are given ‘personal transporters’ from the grateful Coridans, to help them return to their ship quickly with the repaired equipment.
Note: Personal transporters are commonplace 32nd century technology, and they were used (extensively) in last week’s episode, as well as in the late 24th century of Star Trek: Picard.
Aboard Discovery, night falls and the parasitic ice begins to rapidly envelop the ship, but not before a barely on-his-feet Stamets crawls into a Jeffries’ maintenance tube to repair the returned and repaired transtator, which helps restore power to some of the ship’s systems, including communications and shields. During repairs, Stamets is kept on his toes by Commander Reno, who acts as his ‘moral support,’ as her bad back prevents her from crawling into the Jeffries’ tube herself. The still-woozy Stamets is also facing a major reprimand from his lover, Dr. Culber, who urges him to get out of the tube safely so that he may kill him later!
Note: I liked how the transtator was depicted as a big clunky piece of equipment that kind of looked like something from a retro-past future. Sleek by our 21st century standards, yet big and awkward in an age of ‘programmable matter.’
With Saru and Tilly back aboard, and many of the ship’s systems back online, Discovery is able to blast off from the Colony, shaking off the crushing parasitic ice, which is no longer an issue thanks to the ship’s restored shield grid. Not built for launching off from a planet’s surface, Discovery slowly ascends until she is ensnared by an overhead tractor beam…
Note: During the ascent, we see Detmer still struggling with her injury. While her physical wounds are now fully healed, her psychological wounds are not so easily closed, as she appears to be struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Interestingly, this was also something we saw the Ferengi Starfleet Ensign Nog deal with after losing a leg in Deep Space Nine. Nog was memorably played the late Aron Eisenberg.
A crewman reminds acting captain Saru that weapons are now fully charged if he wishes to use them, but Saru decides to open a channel instead, just as the vessel is hailing them. The vessel turns out to be Nautilus (seen last week), with Book (David Ajala) and Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin Green) aboard. The Discovery family is reunited, but the bridge crew is surprised to see Michael with much longer hair now. Michael explains that she has been waiting for the Discovery’s arrival in the 32nd century for the past year.
A Hostile Future.
It’s a really good thing that Discovery and acting Captain Saru have Mirror-Georgiou onboard, as this broken post-Burn galaxy seems tailor-made for someone of her unique talents. I am a huge fan of Michelle Yeoh, from such films as “Tomorrow Never Dies” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” as well as “Crazy Rich Asians” (not the greatest flick, but she was great in it), and she plays her role in this new world perfectly. She definitely saves the day here, even if she has a bit of trouble knowing when to quit.
While I adore Yeoh, the thought of her leading a Section 31 spinoff series is dubious to me. I think she is much more effective as part of this ensemble, acting as the dark agent who does the unmentionable things. If she were leading a team of Black Ops operatives, it wouldn’t really be Star Trek, would it? That said, the character (and actor) were well-used in “Far From Home.”
I’ve stated before how I am also a fan of Doug Jones and his character of Saru. This was an episode where ‘acting captain’ Saru was wholly cut off from both Starfleet and the Federation, yet he kept a cool head and made the morally correct calls. At the very end of the episode, as the ship is being tractored in by an ’unknown,’ he resists the impulse to try and make a break for freedom; Saru simply opens a channel to the unknown instead. Picard would be proud. More Spock than Kirk (and that’s a good thing in my book), Capt. Saru did a fine job in this episode; toeing the line between acting in the best Starfleet tradition while adapting well to very unfamiliar circumstances. Yes, Georgiou helped saved the day, and arguably saved Tilly’s life, but Saru’s refusal to yield (even to the implacable Zareh) was admirable and commendable. His paternal patience with the nervous Ensign Tilly shows a lot of personal wisdom and growth from when we first encountered the character aboard the USS Shenzhou over three years ago. With his threat ganglia gone, the character is no longer defined by that trait and is free to develop into a more dimensional being. Saru’s even-tempered captaincy can be seen as metaphor for a global desire to return to cooler-headed leadership instead of the impulsive, shortsighted variety we’ve endured the last few years.
Another honorable mention would have to go to the burgeoning comedy act of Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Jett Reno (Tig Notaro); the love-hate dynamic between these two could be harnessed and made into an alternative energy source. They are Discovery’s new “Spock-McCoy” or “Odo-Quark,” and I hope the writers used them accordingly.
Season 3 of “Star Trek: Discovery” feels like it’s off to a more confident start this year than in seasons past. No longer a prequel, every step in this future, as Tilly noted, is new and unprecedented. Taking the show out of the low ceiling of the well-traversed 23rd century was just what it needed–to break free from the shackles of continuity, and boldly go somewhere unseen. We don’t know what’s around the next corner, or what the exact state of the galaxy is in this era, and that makes the series more exciting than wondering how each season will ‘fit’ into Star Trek’s established lore. Once again, Star Trek is finally going somewhere new, but with a few familiar faces to act as our tour guides along the journey.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 (and all of Discovery) is available for streaming on CBS All Access right now in the United States, and Netflix in overseas markets. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic as well. The current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is nearing 225,000 as of this writing (that number is increasing daily). There is no cure, no proven treatment and no exact timeline for a vaccine so, for the time being, so please continue to practice social safe-distancing wherever possible, wear masks in public, and avoid crowded outings as much as possible.
Live long and prosper!