Written by Sean Cochran & James Duff, and directed by Maja Vrvilo, the fifth episode of Star Trek: Discovery’s stellar third season, “Die Trying,” is now available for streaming on CBS-All Access. While the title may sound like a cheesy ‘80s action flick, this elegant entry is anything but, as the temporally-displaced starship Discovery and her crew seek a safe port in the 32nd century…
Using the algorithmic data gleaned from the symbiont within the “Tal” symbiont within Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio), the USS Discovery arrives at what appears to be a massive, formidable-looking spatial distortion field. Capt. Saru (Doug Jones) instructs the understandably skittish helm officer Detmer (Emily Coutts) to ignore it and take them inside.
Once inside, the Discovery crew is awed by the sight of a massive fleet of advanced Starfleet vessels from past centuries, some which have hulls made of organics materials and even forcefields, all gathered within this cloaked spatial hub. At the center of the field is a massive space station with life-sustaining greenery everywhere within–as Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) observes, “It’s a flying rain forest!” This is the new location of Starfleet and Federation Headquarters.
Note: There is lots of “ship porn” to ooh and aah over in this scene, with tantalizing glimpses of super-advanced, pre-Burn Starfleet vessels–there is a 10th generation USS Voyager”, NCC-74656-J as well as other ships named after characters or historical figures, like the USS Nog (from “Deep Space Nine”) and the USS Armstrong, named after the real-life astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk upon the moon, over 51 years ago. This is the kind of super-geeky, easter-egg filled stuff that can wear out the pause controls on a Blu Ray player remote control…
Beaming aboard the massive space station at the core of the field, Saru, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Adira Tal are in awe of the gleaming surroundings when they are met by the current Starfleet Commander-In-Chief, Charles Vance (Ohed Fehr) and his aide, Lt. Audrey Willa (Vanessa Jackson), from Starfleet Security.
Vance offers less than a warm welcome to the Discovery crew. Starfleet records of the nearly 1,000 year old starship reveal that she was destroyed in the 23rd century. Records also reveal nothing on her unique spore drive, which was deeply classified. Worried that the ship and her crew might be currently illegal time-travelers left from the Temporal Cold War, Vance is deeply suspicious. The harried CIC has also got his hands full with the “Emerald Chain”, a threat comprised of an Andorian/Orion alliance, which has currently menacing the Sigma Draconis star system (the system seen in the TOS episode, “Spock’s Brain”).
CIC Vance is also dealing with stricken Kili refugees, who were scavenging on the planet Urna, before succumbing to an unknown disease. Saru and Michael get a massive info dump from the admiral, where they learn (among other things) that Saru’s home planet Kaminar joined the Federation but is currently out of contact, as are most of the Federation’s 350 member worlds–now whittled down to a mere 38. Regarding Discovery’s illegal time travel into the 32nd century, Burnham tells Vance their story of the 100,00 year-old sphere, and how its intelligence fused with their ship. That fusion forced Discovery’s escape from their own time to prevent Control’s use of the information to trigger a cybernetic apocalypse (that convoluted storyline aways gives me a headache, even in passing). Vance insists that the entire Discovery crew be officially debriefed as soon as possible.
Note: The expression of hope on Saru’s face when he learns of his rural home planet Kaminar’s past admission to the Federation is amazing; that the actor can project any emotion through layers of silicon and latex is a tribute to actor Doug Jones’ considerable talent. Speaking of Federation members, there are scrolling graphics throughout the station which allude to planets and civilizations in the Gamma and Delta quadrants as well, including the Founders and the Talaxians. This episode is positively teeming with Star Trek easter eggs...
The debriefing sequence that follows is hilarious, as teams of holographic interrogators listen to the crew’s various stories–from Tilly’s unique wording of their adventures, to Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) blithely speaking of his death and resurrection within the mycelial network. The debriefing montage is a great example of mining humor organically from both the characters and their absurd-sounding histories. Terran emperor Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is up next for interrogation, and she effortlessly confounds the interrogation holograms by blinking rapidly, which overloads their body-language detection programs, forcing them to vanish. She is then left alone with a curiously bespectacled unnamed observer (played by legendary Canadian film director David Cronenberg). Alone with Georgiou, the unflappably deadpan observer knows all about the once-secret mirror universe and the hostile inclinations of its people. He then tells Georgiou that the once proud Terran Empire collapsed, and has been out of contact for over five centuries. The news hits Georgiou much harder than she initially lets on.
Note: Famed Canadian director David Cronenberg is well known for his intense subject matter, having directed films such as “Scanners” (1981), “Videodrome” (1983), “The Fly” (1986), “Dead Ringers” (1988) and more recently the 2005 psychological thriller, “History of Violence.” His appearance in this episode was about as surprising to me as seeing Alfred Hitchcock sitting on the bridge of the USS Enterprise.
Following the debriefings, Vance tells Saru he intends to break up the Discovery’s crew, reassigning them to where their antiquated skillsets might still be of use. With most of the Discovery crew still clinging to each other for emotional support in this new century, this reassignment idea doesn’t go over well with Burnham. Saru is reigned to the decision, as Vance is their current superior officer. An impulsive Burnham, seizing an opportunity to prove their mettle, offers Vance the spore-drive equipped Discovery and crew to help with the dying Kili refugees–going over the head of the more prudent captain, Saru. She suggests Discovery jump instantly to the presently unreachable USS Tikhov, a ship known to contain seed samples from the entire Federation (much like the real-life Svalbard Seed Global Seed Vault in Norway). The seeds aboard the Tikhov include those from the planet Urna, where the Kili first fell ill. Burnham believes they can concoct a pharmacological solution using those native samples. As a sign of good faith to Vance, Saru offers to remain behind while Burnham takes Discovery to find the Tikhov, under the watchful eye of Vance’s security chief, Lt. Willa.
The plan approved, the Discovery jumps to the last known location of the precious seed-bearing ship. Once there, they are confronted by a dangerous ion storm. Burnham begins to feel a lot more like her old self as she orders trusted pilot Lt. Detmer (Emily Coutts), who is still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, to pilot Discovery into the storm and lock onto the dysfunctional Tikhov.
Note: Ion storms were also seen in TOS Star Trek’s “Court Martial,” where Captain Kirk went on trial for the negligent death of a crewman (who had faked his own death) when he prematurely ejected the ship’s “ion pod” during a similar storm. Detmer and the Discovery weather their ion storm a bit better than Kirk’s Enterprise…
Lt. Detmer successfully navigates through the powerful storm and pulls the Tikhov out with a tractor beam, but experiences some delay in her responses. While the crew supports her, she quietly rebukes her own hesitation. Detmer’s clearly not out of the woods yet (the previously interchangeable bridge officers are finally standing on their own as characters). Learning that the last known crew to occupy the Tikhov were from the planet Barzan, Michael forms a landing party of herself, Dr. Culber and Commander Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) who originally hails from that planet.
Note: The Barzan race was first introduced in TNG’s third season episode, “The Price.” This episode reiterates their back story of being a relatively poor planet with few natural resources to offer. After alienating her own family to join Starfleet, Nhan takes some measure of pride to learn that her planet eventually joined the Federation after the 23rd (and 24th) century.
Burnham and Culber assume they will need forcefield helmets and breathing supplements to survive in the Thikov atmosphere, which is adjusted to Barzani requirements. Once there, they realize they don’t, as the ship is overrun by flora…corridors filled with lush greenery. As Burnham and Culber deactivate their personal shields (a nice nod to Star Trek’s own 1973 Animated Series), they notice that Nhan’s eyes have changed color now that she isn’t using the breathing supplements she needs aboard the Discovery. As they move out, they find a family of holograms, who are relaxing and listening to music… a mysterious melody that Adira was playing on her cello in last week’s episode (“Forget Me Not”). Trying to locate the source of the holograms, the landing party finds a chamber with three dead bodies placed in cryogenic stasis to prevent further decay…the bodies are of the mother and her two daughters. Burnham then continues the investigation by beaming into the otherwise inaccessible seed chamber, where she learns the dead family’s father Attis (Jake Epstein) is still alive, as he lunges out and attacks Burnham. After their brief scuffle, Burnham notices that Attis is phasing in and out of existence.
Aboard Discovery, Burnham relays her findings to the crack (and lovably snarky) engineering team of Jett Reno (Tig Notaro), spore-driver Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Tilly. The three of them quickly determine that at some point, the Tikhov was hit by a CME, a coronal mass ejection, eloquently called a “star burp” by Reno. This CME happened just as Attis was beaming into the chamber some time before. The CME killed his unshielded family (whom Attis immediately put into states) but Attis survived, since he was partly disassembled in the process of transport. However, the effects of the CME left him out of phase with normal spacetime, hence his inter-spatial ‘glitching.’
Note: Attis’ inter-spatial glitching reminded me of TOS’ “The Tholian Web,” where Captain Kirk was caught in a transporter beam just as the ship he was on, the USS Defiant, vanished from their universe. Caught between universes, Kirk would periodically ‘phase’ in and out of reality, making some of his crew believe they were seeing his ghost!
The unorthodox methodology of the trio raises the ire and admiration of their observer, Lt. Willa. Willa concedes that, despite their lack of traditional military discipline, these guys clearly know what they are doing. Working together they conclude that running Attis through Discovery’s own transporter would correctly reset his body to its natural state, but there is nothing that can be done for his dead family. Nhan later learns that his daughter’s names were named Amma and Tolpra–named after two of the most beautiful moons in the Barzan star system.
Against his will, Attis is beamed through Discovery’s transporter, but learns there is nothing that can be done for his family. Cured of his inter-spatial glitching, Attis refuses to seek help for his radiation poisoning, which is advancing rapidly now that he his condition is stabilized. Culber could cure him easily, but not without his consent. Fellow Barzan native Nhan understands the man’s desire to die with his family, insisting to Culber that it’s a cultural idiosyncrasy that he can’t understand. Culber then appeals to Michael to reason with him, insisting that she could be more frank with the stubborn scientist than can the overly-sympathetic Nhan. It works, and Attis is quickly cured of his radiation poisoning.
As Burnham and Culber locate the necessary seeds from the planet Urna to create their cure for the Kili (who are the episode’s ever-ticking clock), Nhan surprises Burnham with a shocking announcement–she is resigning her post aboard Discovery, choosing to remain behind with Attis and the Tikhov. Feeling that she has repaid her debt to the late Lt. Airyam, Commander Nhan has found her place in this time–fulfilling her people’s duty as caretakers for the seeds that will, someday, rejuvenate a reunified United Federation of Planets.
Note: Lt. Airiam was the cyborg crew member from Discovery’s first two seasons whom Nhan was forced to kill in the second season when Airiam’s cybernetic implants were ruthlessly commandeered by the sinister Section 31 AI known as Control…I won’t get into it all again, because as I said earlier, that entire storyline of Control gives me a damn headache.
Burnham respects Nan’s choice, both culturally and emotionally. As she and Culber beam back to the ship, Nhan takes a look out of one of the ship’s windows just in time to watch Discovery spore-jump back to Federation Headquarters.
Note: I have to admit, I used to think Discovery’s spore-jump looked a bit silly, but I’m growing more and more fond of it each time I see it. It’s a little goofy, yes, but it’s also a creatively unique departure from the too-familiar rainbow streaking of warp drive. As to those who think traveling along a network of space mushrooms isn’t ‘realistic’? Read “Dune”, which uses sandworm-poop harvested spice to fold space…
Culber uses his concoction to cure the Kili refugees, which quickly respond to treatment. As they have done in the last few episodes, the crew helps 32nd century citizens deal with their problems, proving themselves to be the hope that this fallen age needs in order to get its act together. Realizing that Discovery’s crew work best together, Vance also realizes (per Saru and Burnham’s suggestion) he can use Discovery’s spore drive and crew to jump into other galactic hot-spots as well. Saru then brings up the example of the famed Middle Ages artist Giotto di Bondoni, who pioneered the three point perspective technique, which revolutionized art in the forthcoming Renaissance. Vance understands Saru’s metaphor of using 23rd century perspective on 32nd century issues, but he reminds Saru that they’re not in that new renaissance just yet…
Note: Once again, Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) plays a much stronger role in the story; the humorous debriefing with the holograms, his pep talk with Michael, and ultimately his curing of the stricken Kili. After two seasons of finding his place, it seems that Culber is on solid footing in this new season. Here’s hoping that never changes. Wilson Cruz brings great empathy to the role.
Burnham meets Georgiou in a corridor of Discovery and begins to talk about the lullaby Adira had played which matched the music she heard on the Thikov. For a moment, Georgiou seems distracted almost to the point of catatonia, until she snaps back to her senses. Clearly the loss of her once glorified Terran Empire, of which Burnham is unaware, is weighing heavily upon her. Georgiou has heard the familiar tune as well, which means it stretches across time as well as other universes. This is yet another seed of mystery sown for future exploration.
Note: The collapse of the Terran Empire was predicted by the mirror-Spock in the TOS episode, “Mirror, Mirror” (1967). Mirror-Spock believed his own empire was ultimately unsustainable, as growing dissent would lead to galactic revolt, which would inevitably overthrow it. It appears Spock was right, even if his calculations were off by a few centuries.
The final scene sees Saru and Michael alone together. As captain, Saru wisely delivers some honey with the vinegar–commending Michael on her actions aboard the Thikov, but disapproving of how she went over his head to do so. Her year alone in the 32nd century, without the responsibilities of Discovery, has made her a bit too self-reliant at times. Saru reminds Burnham that her actions will reflect upon him as Discovery’s captain. She apologizes. Gazing out of a window, they both “look up” together into the vast expanse of Federation ships.
There are many many easter eggs in this episode…far more than I can cram into this already packed review, but here are a few notable ones that caught my attention. One of the ships berthed within the Federation/Starfleet armada was the USS Nog, named after the scrappy Ferengi thief-turned-decorated Starfleet officer seen in “Deep Space Nine” and played by the late Aron Eisenberg (1969-2019).
This reference was especially profound for me, as I’d gotten to know Aron in the last few years before his death last year. I’d interviewed him twice for this site, in fact (The Man Behind The Mask: an interview with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Aron Eisenberg ); the last interview was conducted only a month or so before his passing (Deep Space Nog: Another conversation with Aron Eisenberg). He was very generous with his time, and would treat each and every fan like a friend. That’s the way he was, and that is the Aron Eisenberg I was fortunate enough to know these last few years.
Seeing a future Starfleet vessel named after ‘Captain Nog’ was lovely and fitting. I can vouch that Aron would’ve gotten a real kick out of that. He was very pleased when Nog was promoted to Captain for the “Star Trek Online” game. His podcast “The 7th Rule”, which also featured actors Cirroc Lofton (“Jake Sisko”) and Ryan T. Husk continues. Here is a link to their YouTube channel: 7th Rule YouTube
Other nods include a future incarnation of the USS Voyager, a tenth generation incarnation of the former Intrepid-class vessel once commanded by Captain Kathryn Janeway during her accidental voyage to the Delta Quadrant. We also see the USS Armstrong, named for the late real-life NASA astronaut Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) who became the first human to walk on the surface of the moon during the mission of Apollo 11 in 1969. Holographic screens throughout the new Starfleet Headquarters include references to planets in the Delta and Gamma quadrants as well. For a breakdown of more easter eggs of this episode (and others) check out the Discovery section of Trekcore.com.
It was also interesting to see the usually unflappable former emperor Georgiou react to news of her collapsed Terran Empire in the ‘mirror universe.’ The news takes a bit of the wind out of her sails. Some of the joy is gone from her malicious mischief. Yet Michelle Yeoh carefully contains an explosive powder keg of emotion behind her eyes. I wonder how this will play out…will she finally wholly embrace life aboard Discovery? We’ll see.
Once again, a solid third season offering offers a little something for everyone; lots of gee-whiz future tech, some amazing (if fleeting) “starship porn”, and many strong and memorable character moments. Showrunner Michelle Paradise has chosen to put an emphasis on the core characters for the third season, finally making Discovery’s crew feel like an indispensable family. This approach of character over spectacle is very similar to what the late writer-producer Michael Piller (1948-2005) brought to Star Trek during his reigns on both TNG and DS9. After a couple of coltish prior seasons, the show’s third year finally sees its full potential unleashed. The USS Discovery has found its “Starfleet” home, just as the series has found its own solid niche in Star Trek lore.
Star Trek: Discovery (and most of Star Trek) 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. The current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is around 240,000 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!