The latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery is now available to stream on CBS-All Access, and it’s consistent with the terrific offerings of this third (and easily best) season of the series to date (kudos to new showrunner Michelle Paradise). That said, there are some choices made in this episode which some fans may find… objectionable.
****SPOILER PERIMETER, DIRECTLY AHEAD!!****
Written by “Battlestar Galactica” veteran Anne Cofell Saunders and directed by Douglas Aarniokoski, “Scavengers” begins Discovery safely berthed in the large pocket of cloaked space that serves as the current de facto Federation Headquarters. Captain Saru (Doug Jones) is recording a log on the day’s activities in the 32nd century…
Commander in Chief Admiral Charles Vance (Ohed Fehr) is giving a briefing on the current state of affairs in the galaxy. The “Emerald Syndicate” (the dangerous alliance between Andorians and Orions) threatens the planet Argeth. The recently arrived starship Discovery has been ordered to stand by, as Vance may need her to jump in at a moment’s notice. Vance then tells the captains in the room about Discovery’s unique spore drive system, but also urges them to keep that very sensitive information classified.
We then see Vance’s aide Lt. Willa (Vanessa Jackson) overseeing a massive refit to all of Discovery’s systems with advanced 32nd century technology. Discovery’s warp nacelles are no longer physically attached to the ship, allowing for far greater maneuverability. The bridge consoles have been upgraded with ‘programmable matter’ controls, to the fascination of operations officer Lt. Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo). The crew also receive new badges, which now serve as communicators (a nod to TNG), tricorders, holographic interfaces and even personal transporters. Saurian crew member Linus (David Benjamin Tomlinson) seems to have a bit of trouble with his own personal transporter, and the reptilian lieutenant awkwardly flash-beams into various personal spaces unannounced throughout the episode…
Note: Lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ in the upgrade scenes. The various changes made to the Discovery’s nacelles, controls and other systems are more or less consistent with the advanced state of the ship when we saw her abandoned in the far future of the Short Trek, “Calypso” (though I can’t remember if her nacelles were still attached or not in “Calypso”… I may have to double check that one).
After the ship settles in, Discovery receives a distress signal from the Nautilus, the ship belonging to Michael’s beau Cleveland Booker (David Ajala). The distress call seems to be coming from his cat, Grudge. Programming the Nautilus to return to Federation Headquarters without him, Booker left a hologram explaining that he’s gone to a Bajoran exchange to find a “black box” recovered from a scrapped starship which may help the Federation understand what caused the “Burn” (a mysterious, galaxy-wide event that destabilized almost all warp-grade dilithium, cutting off the Federation from its own member planets). Booker’s hologram says that he should be back in “24 hours.” Michael notes the message was recorded three weeks ago. Whatever happened, Booker is clearly in trouble. Michael then asks Saru for permission to find out what happened, and if possible, retrieve the black box and possibly learn what caused the Burn. Respecting Admiral Vance’s orders to stand-by for a possible jump to Argeth, Saru firmly denies Michael permission to investigate. Michael reiterates that learning the cause of the Burn is critical if they are to rebuild the Federation. Saru doesn’t disagree with her, but he respects the chain of command.
Note: Saru’s denial to Michael should’ve been the end of the discussion. But, of course, this is Star Trek, and we’ve seen many a Starfleet officer (and a few captains) go rogue before, so….
Michael chooses to disregard her friend Saru’s authority (bad mistake) and turns to former Terran emperor/Section 31 operative Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) for some clandestine assistance. Philippa, always an enabler of bad behavior, is up for the chance to go rogue. The two of them take the Nautilus and head out to the Exchange, a planetary scrapyard overseen by the Emerald Syndicate, where Michael hopes to find Booker (oh yeah, and that critical black box, too…).
Note: I gotta say, Michael’s risking everything for Booker on the slim hope of retrieving the black box is very thin ice on which to skate. At three weeks overdue, Booker could’ve easily been dead. And what if the recovered black box is a dead end? What if its data didn’t survive the Burn? Yes, I understand Michael’s feelings for Booker, but going rogue the minute her captain says ‘no’ only proves she’s not cut out to be Saru’s exec. More on that after the synopsis…
En route, Michael and Philippa get into a mother-daughter style exchange over her feelings for Booker. Michael tells her it’s all about retrieving the black box, but Philippa easily cuts through the crap, wondering how and why Michael fell for the “blob whisperer” (her name for Booker’s unique talent for empathically ‘speaking’ to other life forms). As Michael is thoroughly embarrassed by Philippa’s maternal probing, Philippa suffers a painful flashback. In her violent memory, we see Philippa screaming to someone named “San.” Michael then snaps Philippa out of herself, as the former Terran emperor tries to shrug it off. Making contact with the scrapyard, the Nautilus is warned away by a lunkheaded, green Orion overseer named Tolor. Philippa cuts the bully down to size, and makes him a tantalizing trade offer for some of the Nautilus’ intact dilithium crystals. Tolor allows them permission to beam down to the salvage yard.
Aboard Discovery, Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is looking for Michael when she comes across Booker’s rotund kitty, Grudge. Asking the computer to locate Michael, the computer tells her Michael isn’t onboard. Tilly temporarily keeps mum on Michael’s disappearance, as she reluctantly bonds with the massive feline…
Note: The various moments aboard the refit Discovery are played mainly for laughs (Linus’ awkward beaming, Tilly’s grappling with Grudge, etc. ) providing a nice counterbalance to the more serious revolt story taking place at the Exchange. Such humorous moments are typical of how this show’s new tone this year. The earlier seasons of DSC felt almost oppressively heavy at times, despite their being set in the cheerier ‘pre-Burn’ 23rd century. Personally, I’m grateful to see the show lighten up a bit.
At the exchange, Philippa and her ‘servant’ Michael bluff their way into meeting Tolor, who eagerly wants their dilithium. Philippa tells him they’re looking for 23rd century technology, as well as some “self-sealing stembolts.” Within the forced labor pool of the scrapyard, we see a captured Booker, who’s allied himself with a Bajoran named Lai and a disgraced former guard named Ryn. The blue-skinned Andorian Ryn had his antennae chopped off for his misdeeds, but Lai is still reluctant to trust him. Caught stealing a water ration, Lai is forced to participate in a sadistic test of a new forcefield technology which causes a slave’s neck implants to detonate in any escape attempt. Tolor orders the guards to shoot at Lai, forcing the young man to run directly into the electronic perimeter fence, which causes his head to explode right off of his shoulders. Unfazed, Philippa pretends to be impressed, and asks Tolor for a look at the fence’s controller, which she instantly deduces is in his pocket (Tolor’s tell is a little obvious, but props to Philippa, anyway…).
Note: Self-sealing stembolts are a sly “Deep Space Nine” reference, as Nog and Jake Sisko once tried to unsuccessfully start their own private enterprise by selling the useless hardware pieces in the episode “Progress.” Lai’s exploding head at the electronic perimeter fence was a moment directly stolen from the 1987 dystopian sci-fi movie, “The Running Man,” which was based loosely on a short story by Stephen King. Then again, it’s hardly the first time Star Trek has borrowed bits from other sci-fi shows/movies.
Back on Discovery, Commander Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) finds that 16-year old wunderkind Adira (Blu del Barrio) has taken the liberty of upgrading his precious spore-drive interface. A ‘nanogel’ now secretes from the hand placement units. The typically proprietary Stamets is surprisingly okay with the changes made to his device, and Adira also promises to make his forearm contact plates obsolete. Adira is still seeing the visions of her former Trill lover Gray (Ian Alexander) whose former symbiont resides within her. We also see Linus have another awkward self-beaming moment, as the Saurian struggles with his com badge’s new personal transporter. Saru later meets Tilly in engineering, and they commiserate over Michael’s disappearance. Surprisingly, Tilly doesn’t lie or cover for her friend Michael’s act. She meekly offers that she might’ve done the same in Michael’s place, which Saru doesn’t believe that for a minute. Sadly, Tilly’s support doesn’t make Saru’s forthcoming meeting with the admiral any easier. Admiral Vance then tells Saru that Discovery may have to jump to Argeth soon, with or without its first officer.
Note: Trust is a recurring theme in this story, as spore-drive genius Stamets comes to trust newcomer Adira, who upgrades his spore drive without permission, just as Tilly and Saru express their own disappointments with Michael.
At the Exchange, “servant” Michael is sent away by her ‘boss’ Philippa to gather parts, where she makes contact with Booker. Booker didn’t expect her to come after him, but he’s grateful to see her. Together they coordinate an escape plan, but Michael learns they will only have a 40 or so minute window in which to implement said plan.
Needing a few minutes to work unobserved, Michael smashes a security drone as Philippa gathers up loose pieces of scrap to create a weapon. The weapon will be very limited in use, but it should be enough. Tolor and his guards apprehend the two imposters and escorts them back to the Nautilus in order to raid its dilithium…
Booker coordinates with the other prisoners, as Michael vows to turn off the perimeter security fence. As we saw earlier with Lai, the perimeter will detonate the implants on their necks should any of them try to run through it. Ryn tells Booker he’s found the black box that Michael is seeking, and they will take it with them during their escape. The reformed Andorian guard has proven himself invaluable.
Note: Anne Coffel Saunders and director Douglas Aarniokoski really dialed up the homages to 1987’s “The Running Man.” Aside from the perimeter fence gag, the entire salvage yard escape sequence visually reflects the look and feel of “The Running Man”, with its abandoned steel mill aesthetic (also see: 1987’s original “Robocop”). “The Running Man” was directed by former “Starsky & Hutch” costar Paul-Michael Glaser.
Leading the charge to overrun the guards and the facility’s defenses through sheer manpower, Booker and Ryn decide to trust that Michael will somehow deactivate the fence and transport them out of there in time. They go for it. Meanwhile, aboard the Nautilus, Michael and Philippa turn the table on their captors…
Note: The new Andorian makeups on Discovery are yet another evolution from those we saw in The Original Series and Enterprise, with more chin, cheek and forehead prosthetics, as well as the former baby blue skin coloring now appearing a deep teal. Oh, and Ryn is played by the husband of Mary Wiseman (“Tilly”), actor Noah Averbach-Katz.
As Michael and Philippa fight with Tolor’s guards, Philippa is caught by yet another unexpected flashback. Seeing “San” tortured again is more than she can handle at the moment, and she collapses, dropping the perimeter fence controller on which Booker’s escape plan rests! On the floor, but not quite unconscious, a groggy Philippa faintly hears Michael shout to her, “Get the controller!” Adrenaline kicks in, and Philippa somehow manages to grab the controller and deactivate the perimeter fence just as Michael puts the finishing touches on an ass-kicking for Tolor and his fleeing goons, who manage to beam away…
With the Nautilus back in their hands, Philippa and Michael use the ship to provide air cover for the fleeing escapees, who are quickly beamed aboard just as the Nautilus fires at the Exchange’s token guards. The slender vessel is able to do a Millennium Falcon, flying sideways to fit between narrow buildings.
Note: The Nautilus gets its name from the renegade Captain Nemo’s vessel in Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” (1870). That earlier Nautilus also participated in the liberation of prisoners from a labor camp on the island of Rura Penthe in the 1954 Disney adaptation of Verne’s novel (no, it’s not just the name of the Klingon prison planet seen in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” ).
Remaining forces defending the Exchange begin mobilizing ancient, patched-together starships in a vain attempt to try and repel the Nautilus, but are quickly disabled by the quicker and more advanced Nautilus. Firing at a large, boxy-looking starship, Philippa quips, “Salvage this, you son of a bitch!” Boom! The disabled ships crash into the scrapyards, as the former labor camp is liberated. Andorian Ryn is injured by a guard’s weaponed during the escape, but manages to get beamed safely aboard the Nautilus with the others. Once aboard the Nautilus en route to Federation HQ, Michael demands to know what is causing Philippa’s flashbacks. Michael soon realizes that Philippa herself doesn’t understand them, only to add that they’ve been going on for a couple of weeks. A sympathetic Michael wonders why Philippa didn’t come to her sooner. Michael doesn’t understand that her very face reminds Philippa of the stinging betrayal she received by her Michael in her universe…
Note: Various ancient starships are mobilized by the Exchange’s forces in a half-hearted defense against the Nautilus. The large crashing ship (in the above photo) almost looks almost like some kind of Excelsior-class offshoot. We also see a Miranda-class vessel (like the USS Reliant in “The Wrath of Khan”) as well as a few of indeterminate classes (one looks almost like an Oberth-class, like the USS Grissom, from “The Search for Spock”). Philippa’s line, “Salvage this, you son of a bitch!” also sounds like something Arnold Schwarzenegger might’ve said in “The Running Man”… the homages just keep coming.
Stamets is in the mess hall with his lunch about to sit down, when he spots Adira talking to herself. His curiosity piqued, he takes a seat across from Adira and lets her know that he doesn’t think talking to one’s self is particularly strange. Adira, at the urging of ‘head-Gray,’ decides to tell Stamets that she still ‘sees’ her late Trill lover Gray, and that’s whom she talks to… her late boyfriend who resides within her. Stamets offers both his understanding and his gratitude for her genius work on his spore drive interface. Adira tells him that he will no longer needs the connection plates on his forearms to activate the spore drive…
Note: I appreciate that Stamets is taking Adira, with whom he shares much in common, under his wing. It’s kind of the opposite of his prickly love/hate relationship with the acerbic Jett Reno, who was sadly absent from this episode.
After a busy day in sickbay removing the neck implants of the escapees (including Booker), Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) settles in for a little quality time with his lover Paul, who’s had the now-obsolete metal plates from his forearms removed, much to the delight of Hugh. Paul tells Hugh that he relates to Adira carrying her dead lover inside of her, because he did the same when Hugh was ‘killed’ (and later resurrected). Grateful for having each other, they share a kiss.
Note: When Hugh was ‘killed’ by the Klingon Voq (aka Ash Tyler) in season 1, many LGBTQ fans were outraged that the show seemed to follow the tired cliche of “killing the gays” (a trope seen in far too many plays and films). Hugh’s later resurrection (by space mushrooms, no less) softened the blow a little bit. However, there are fans who are now equally (and understandably) upset by the death of trans-male character Gray from “Forget Me Not” only two weeks ago. That we see Gray living on in a ‘head-version’ also blunts the impact of that character’s loss. However, some might wonder if Star Trek is unconsciously following the trope, or actively defying it? Personally, I think I idea of two lovers sharing a single body and consciousness is bold new territory for Star Trek...
Michael is back in uniform and ready to face the consequences of her actions, but not before she and Booker share a turbolift ride and a kiss together, just as Linus has another one of his accidental ‘self-beamings.’ It was kinda cute and funny the first two times, but seriously Linus… cut it out.
Note: Now that he’s rescued, what role will Booker take in the rebuilding of the Federation? Will he offer the Nautilus as another addition to the Starfleet, or will he continue to ‘go it alone’? I like Cleveland Book (and actor David Ajala) and I’d hate to see him appear only as a recurring character.
Saru and Michael meet with a still-seething Admiral Vance, who tells her the only reason she’s not in the brig right now is because lives were saved in the escape from the Exchange. Michael’s casual disregard for the chain of command reflects poorly on new captain Saru’s leadership as well. As a result, Saru demotes her from first officer to chief science officer. Not exactly the worst he could’ve done, but it was painful for him nevertheless. The greater question is whether Saru can ever fully trust Michael again going forward?
Sifting Through “Scavengers.”
Another solid episode, though the decisions made by Michael, and its repercussions, may knock her down a few pegs in the eyes of fans. Just when Michael is reunited with her shipmates after a year in the 32nd century with Booker, just when she’s accepted a commission as Saru’s first officer, and just when they’ve found Starfleet Headquarters… she goes rogue (again), damaging the trust she’d built with Saru after their rivalrous relationship aboard the Shenzou. In fairness, I like Michael Burnham (and Sonequa Martin Green) very much, but the flippant way she went over Saru’s head showed absolutely zero respect for his leadership position. She was clearly correct in her own hesitance to accept Saru’s offer to be his exec, and perhaps it was an error in his judgment to offer her that role in the first place.
Some might say that it was her year alone with Booker that ‘changed’ her, but that’s not accurate. Michael has a history of going rogue, rules be damned (see: “The Vulcan Hello”). Saru’s pain from her betrayal was more stinging than any verbal rebuke or reprimand he could give her. This wasn’t merely a captain angered by a subordinate’s recklessness… he was visibly hurt by Michael’s betrayal of his trust (serious kudos to Doug Jones for being so expressive under all of those prosthetics). That Michael’s actions had a positive outcome was incidental; her self-appointed mission to retrieve the black box could’ve just as easily gone south, and nearly did, when Philippa collapsed during her second flashback. Michael put Saru in a hell of a position–she betrayed his trust and went running to a woman who used to literally eat members of his race as a delicacy. There is no easy way to slice that (forgive the pun). That Saru simply demoted her to ‘chief science officer’ speaks to the fact that he is a sensitive commander with a soft touch. Others might’ve gone with Admiral Vance’s idea of tossing her in the brig. As a former emperor in another universe and a Section 31 operative, Philippa may be above Saru’s discipline, but Michael is not.
Speaking of Philippa, her flashbacks, which had been going on for a couple of weeks (presumably after she got the news of her Empire’s collapse) are very compelling. We see a far more vulnerable Philippa in those flashbacks, crying out to someone named “San”, who was being tortured to death (?). This is intriguing on multiple levels. First off, we’ve never really seen a hardcore member of the Terran Empire (let alone a former Emperor) showing such emotional vulnerability before, and secondly, we have to wonder who was San? Philippa’s second flashback during the escape from the salvage yard nearly ended their mission, so Michael was certainly right to demand to know what was going on. However, I can understand Philippa’s lingering distrust of Michael, despite their newfound bond. Philippa reminds Michael that she was once betrayed a Michael Burnham in her universe… a mistake she’s clearly not willing to repeat. Given how easily this universe’s Michael betrayed Saru’s trust, I can’t entirely blame Philippa for being so guarded.
Betrayal and trust were core themes of this episode, and the lessons of betrayal made for some bitter pills to swallow. On the positive side, we also saw young genius Adira relax and allow Stamets into her own trust circle, by telling him about her visitations from head-Gray, whom only she can see. Others might’ve harshly judged Adira as crazy, but Adira took a shot that Stamets would understand…and he did. Even Gray liked him as well. Stamets also seemed surprisingly chill with Adira’s upgrade to his beloved spore drive, too. So, even as old bonds of trusts were broken, new bonds were made. Non-cat person Tilly even learned to trust Grudge…
“Scavengers” pieces together another solid episode, though it will no doubt leave a bitter aftertaste with some fans. Michael’s stock definitely plummeted this week. I think the series has been wise this year in shoring up the entire cast of characters, rather than having Michael as its fulcrum. Yes, Michael always means well, but this episode proved she’s too mercurial to be the show’s anchor (a role she was clearly being groomed for in seasons 1 &2). I like the character of Michael Burnham very much, but I think she works far more effectively as an occasional soloist in the orchestra, not as the conductor. Whatever the series’ original intent, Star Trek: Discovery is rapidly becoming an ensemble show, like it or not.
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 over 250,000 (a quarter million people) 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!