*****FEDERATION HEADQUARTERS-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!*****
Written by Kenneth Lin, the latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery is now available for streaming on CBS-All Access, and this exciting actioner takes more than a few pages from a certain disputed holiday classic. It is also the opposite of last week’s surreal study in angst and loneliness.
“There Is A Tide” is all about the action, and what better person to “make it so” than Jonathan Frakes, the ‘Number One’ director of 1996’s “Star Trek: First Contact”?
“There Is A Tide…”
The story opens with a captured USS Discovery being pursued by the Emerald Chain warship Viridian (get it? Blue? Green? Viridian?). The warship is pretending to exchange fire with Discovery, which is now flying under the flag of Emerald Chain military leader Osyrra (Janet Kidder). Osyrra hopes she can take Discovery through the cloaking shields of Federation/Starfleet Headquarters by pretending to be under attack by her own warship. Rewriting Discovery’s computers to follow her commands, Osyrra and her team of pirates are still unable to override one irritating piece of code in the ship’s computer. For the time being, Osyrra chooses to ignore it (big mistake). As Discovery rapidly approaches the coordinates of the shielded Federation HQ, an apprehensive Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) doesn’t want to allow them in just yet…
In the Discovery’s ready room, acting-captain Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is still seething over losing her ship to Osyrra, while Captain Saru (Doug Jones), Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Adira (Blu del Barrio) remain behind in the dangerously radioactive Verubin nebula. Her first command feels like a complete failure. She and her bridge crew, Detmer (Emily Coutts), Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) Bryce (Ronnie Rowe Jr.) and Rhys (Patrick Kwok-Choon) are prisoners, remaining alive only at the insistence of Osyrra, who wishes to use them as bargaining chips.
Things go from bad to worse when a familiar face walks in. Tilly immediately recognizes the seedy face of Zareh (Jake T. Weber), whom she left for dead shortly after her arrival in the 32nd century during a heated confrontation on an unnamed icy planet (“Far From Home”). Zareh’s frostbitten hand speaks to her actions from that episode. He reminds an already guilty Tilly that she should’ve killed him instead of leaving him to fend for himself in the ice.
Note: A theme in this episode is Tilly facing the consequences of her decisions. We see her guilt over losing her ship, having to leave the away team behind (including her captain) in a dangerous radioactive nebula, and now we see a man who bears the literal scars of her decisions. This episode sees a much more mature Tilly accepting those consequences and moving on, despite the cost. She even seems to have lost her trademark nervous stammer as she gains new confidence. This arc might signal the remaking of Tilly’s character; from nervous babbling ensign to an officer with true command potential—her dream from the beginning of the series.
Elsewhere, we see Booker (David Ajala) and a still-slightly irradiated Michael (Sonequa Martin Green) racing after the captured Discovery at warp speed aboard his starship Nautilus. Booker is taking Michael through the “courier route,” a hyperspace shortcut cluttered with dangerous debris. They emerge near Federation HQ, just as Admiral Vance finally gives the order for the base’s tractor beam to pull Discovery inside of the protective shield. With no choice, the full-bore Nautilus is forced to crash land inside of Discovery’s exposed hangar bay. With the Nautilus aboard, Discovery is pulled inside.
Note: The addition of a dangerously cluttered “couriers’ route” seemed like an artificial contrivance to add a bit of unnecessary danger to the story; a story already stuffed to the gills with danger, thanks. In fairness, orbital debris above the Earth is becoming a problem as well, as more junk accumulates from both satellites and manned missions into space, so maybe this is commentary.
In the engine room of Discovery, we see Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) in the spore drive chamber, under mind control by the Emerald Chain’s will-draining headband. Stamets is being studied by a disabled scientist named Auriello (Kenneth Mitchell), who observes him from his hover-chair. Auriello is deeply curious about exactly how the genetically-modified Stamets integrates with the spore-drive system.
Note: Auriello is played by returning Star Trek: Discovery veteran Kenneth Mitchell, who played Klingon Kol in the first season, as well as several other Klingons during the show’s first two years. Mitchell recently made public his own ALS diagnosis, which has left him wheelchair-bound. That he was able to return to the show in a way that accommodates his disability speaks to both the resolve of the actor and the commitment of Star Trek towards positive representation for all people, including those with pronounced disabilities. More on Mitchell’s return below, after the synopsis.
Checking in on her scientist’s progress is Osyrra herself. Auriello is reminded of the debt he owes to her. Born with a genetic defect that prevents him from walking, Osyrra gave the disabled scientist a critical role in her Empire, for which he owes her his life (and more). As she leaves him to his work, Auriello decides to play some Andorian opera, not yet realizing the immobilized Stamets is a huge opera fan himself.
In the shuttle bay, aboard the crashed Nautilus, Booker gives Michael another injection of radiation meds which heals the last of the radiation burns on her face. Never one to take it easy, Michael is already making plans to retake the ship. Booker gives her a bracelet to conceal her life-signs from Discovery’s internal sensors, which are temporarily clouded by their fiery crash landing. Since he doesn’t have a spare, he plans to surrender to Osyrra’s forces and convince her that he was alone aboard his ship. Before they part for their mutually dangerous plans, Michael finally admits to Booker that she loves him and they share a kiss. He jokes with her that he always knew, since she talks in her sleep! They go their separate ways. The plan begins, as Booker is immediately captured by Zareh and taken to rejoin the bridge officer hostages in the briefing room. Making eye contact with Tilly, Booker tries to communicate a non-verbal plan of action…
Note: The big moment; Booker and Michael finally give each other the big-L word. Not that we didn’t see this coming, of course, but it’s nice to hear the words spoken aloud. Okay, okay—I’m a romantic. Sue me.
Aboard Federation Headquarters, a nervous Vance and his aide Willa (Vanessa Jackson) wonder what could be wrong with Discovery’s comms. With most of their Starfleet at Kaminar in response to Emerald Chain war games in that area, Vance quickly realizes that Kaminar was a diversion, and that Osyrra’s true goal was to capture Discovery. He quickly orders all remaining vessels at “Weapons hot!” when it becomes clear that Discovery has been pirated by Osyrra, and that the Viridian’s attack on it was staged.
Osyrra opens a channel to Admiral Vance; she wants to talk. Vance, left with no choice but to hear her terms, reluctantly prepares to meet her and her aides-de-camp at Federation Headquarters. They meet under tense circumstances, with Vance insisting on a face-to-face meeting with holographic interrogator “Eli” (Brendan Beiser); an evolved version of the 24th century’s Emergency Medical Hologram, which now functions as a lie detector as well.
Note: The creepy holographic Eli was first seen used as a truth detector during the interrogation of Discovery’s crew shortly after their arrival in the 32nd century. Why this EMH is considered an ‘evolved’ version of Voyager’s far more personable EMH is beyond me; if anything, the more robotic 32nd century EMH feels more like a step backward.
Meanwhile, Michael crawls around undetected in Discovery’s nether reaches. She attacks an Emerald Chain “Regulator” (guard) and the two of them get into a nasty tussle. Michael wraps her legs around his neck in an effort to break it, but not before he plunges a dagger into her leg, which begins bleeding profusely. Using all her strength, she finally snaps the Regulator’s neck. Crawling away in a Jeffries’ tube, Michael acquires a phaser. Using one of the weapon’s lower settings, she cauterizes her wound. Michael then opens a scrambled subspace message to her mother Gabriella on Ni’Var (formerly Vulcan), and apprises her of Discovery’s capture in the hope she might use her influence to send a rescue. Michael also tells her mother she loves her, just in case she doesn’t make it.
Note: Michael’s slipping through the ship’s crawlways undetected while evading Osyrra’s pirates is a deliberate loving homage to the 1988 action movie classic, “Die Hard.” Michael even loses her shoes later on, during a fight with one of the “Regulators”, just as Bruce Willis was caught shoeless when terrorists seized his wife’s office building in that film. She even sends baiting messages to Zareh on the bridge, via communicator, just as Willis’ John McClane sent snarky ‘come-and-get-me’ taunts via walkie-talkie to the late Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. This is not the first time Star Trek has deliberately referenced “Die Hard”; the TNG episode “Starship Mine” (1993) saw Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) crawling around the Enterprise-D, leaving taunts and traps for would-be pirates who tried to steal his ship’s dangerously unstable supply of trilithium resin.
In the ready room, Tilly, Michael, their Andorian ally Ryn (Noah Averbach-Katz) and the rest of the captive bridge officers wait under watchful eye of the Regulators. Bryce begins tapping his fingers in Morse code, which prompts responses from Rhys and the others, who mask the messages as nervous ticks. The Regulators quickly realize what’s going on, and one of them steps on Bryce’s fingers with his boot. Tilly sternly reminds the Regulator of Osyrra’s warning not to harm them, and the Regulator backs off. Seizing their cue, Owosekun and Detmer stage a fight as a diversion, which prompts the others to overpower their guards. Ryn, familiar with the new Emerald Chain codes in the ship’s computer, offers to hack it and give Michael a private comm. Tilly immediately wants to jump the ship back to the nebula once they regain control, worried that the nebula’s radiation might’ve already been fatal to the away team. Booker tells Tilly that Adira beamed down with anti-radiation meds to buy them more time. Reassured, Tilly then orders Owosekun, Detmer and Rhys to try and gain access into the maintenance hatches, while the rest of them start barricading the turbolift doors to prevent easy access for the Regulators.
Rys hacks into the computer, and successfully opens a scrambled comm for Michael. Meanwhile, Michael has her own hands full, as Regulators close in on her position in the ship’s crawlspaces. She plans to strap herself into the bulkhead and initiate the ship’s fire suppression system. She then fires at a panel, which triggers a fire klaxon. Michael’s pursuers grab her, just as the outer hatchways open into space—in response to the fire alarm! One of Michael’s more tenacious Regulators pull off Michael’s shoes before she herself is blown out into the vacuum surrounding Starfleet Headquarters. The hatchway soon closes again, just before Michael herself is nearly ejected into the void. Calling up to Zareh on the Discovery’s captured bridge, Michael does her best John McClane impression and taunts, “You’re going to need more Regulators.”
Note: “You’re going to need more Regulators” is another nod to 1988’s “Die Hard,” specifically the moment where Deputy Police Chief Dwayne Robinson (Paul Gleason) sees the rooftop of Nakatomi Plaza explode, destroying two FBI attack helicopters. Robinson makes the lame quip, “Guess we’re going to need more FBI guys…”
Michael’s victory is felt throughout the ship, as one of the vacuum freeze-dried Regulators drifts, mouth agape, past Discovery’s front bridge window. Successfully hacking into the network, Ryn looks at Tilly and the others and asks, “Who’s ready to get the hell outta here?” The Andorian has created a program that will produce false sensor ghosts of multiple crew members in order to mask their exit, so that they may reach the ship’s armory. The plan will only work for a short while, until Zareh and the others figure out a way to sift through the false sensor readings and detect their life-signs, but it’s better than nothing. Tilly and the others jump at the chance.
At Federation Headquarters, in a private meeting room, the summit between Admiral Vance and Osyrra slowly advances. Asking her bluntly, “What do you want?” Osyrra wants reunification. The lie-detecting hologram Eli detects no dishonesty in her request. Vance remains skeptical. He offers her some snacks, including slices of replicated apples. Tasting a slice, Osyrra disparages the replicated fruit’s lack of flavor. He tells her the fruit is reconstituted shit–literally. The waste products of living beings broken down to the atomic levels and then reformed into new food. Taking a bite himself, he remarks, “It’s pretty good for shit… and we don’t have to commit any atrocities for it.” Pressing on, Osyrra wants the Federation to recognize the validity of their capitalist-based system; a primitive economic model the Federation abandoned well over a millennium ago. With free replicator technology, the Federation has no use or need for money, as well as slavery … another sticking point with the Emerald Chain. Surprisingly, Osyrra offers to permanently abolish slavery if the Federation agrees to reunification. Vance then receives a communique; it seems some of Osyrra’s mercenaries on Discovery have been spotting going for unauthorized spacewalks—without spacesuits! With the tables slowly turning, Osyrra feels her leverage slipping away. She then proposes an armistice…
Note: Have to admit, Vance’s line about Federation food being reconstituted shit, however factually presented, still gave my inner adolescent self a hopeless case of the giggles. Actor Oded Fehr delivers the line with such deadpan “Dragnet”-style sincerity, too.
As Tilly and the others prepare to escape through the hatchways and retake the ship, Booker and Ryn offer to remain behind. Tilly, still feeling guilty for the suffering on her watch, wants them to stay together, until she realizes that Booker’s cover fire would make their escape that much easier. She gives Booker one of their captured Emerald Chain rifles and leaves with Bryce, Detmer, Owosekun and Rhys to the ship’s armory to get their hands on some phasers.
Meanwhile, the Starfleet escapees coordinate with Michael, who plans to retake Engineering and physically remove Stamets, so that he can’t be used to jump the captured Discovery into Emerald Chain territory. Ryn and Booker cover their escape, firing just as the Regulators break through the doors. With Tilly and the others gone, the outgunned Andorian and human are captured and taken to the bridge.
Note: Noah Averbach-Katz, who plays Ryn, is the real-life husband of “acting Captain Tilly”, Mary Wiseman.
Meanwhile, in Engineering, scientist Auriello has captive engineer Stamets’ mind-controlling headband removed, and his previously whitened eyes regain their natural color. Regaining his senses, Stamets hears the Andorian opera playing. As he converses with the benevolent Auriello, he notes by the scientist’s earrings that Auriello is a father, married to an Orion partner. Auriello then changes the subject to the tardigrade DNA within Stamets’ genetically modified cells, which is used to jump the ship along the mycelial network. Instead of removing it forcefully, Auriello assures Stamets that he’d prefer to simply grow a living specimen of the now-extinct species using but a small tissue sampling. Sensing the scientist’s respect for life, Stamets asks how Auriello feels about working for the ruthless Osyrra, who’s committed genocide on the planet Kwejian and other pre-warp worlds within the Chain. Deflecting, Auriello tells Stamets another story—of how Osyrra gave him a life as a scientist, when others in their harshly capitalist society might’ve left someone in his condition to die.
Note: First, we have Vance’s objections to the Emerald Chain’s brazen capitalism gone amok (complete with slavery), then we have Auriello taking a veiled (and arguably justified) jab at privatized healthcare, like the sort we have here in the United States. Auriello’s line about the lack of “free technology” within the Chain makes survival of those born with genetic predispositions like himself a dicey proposition. Once again, Star Trek offers viewers hope for a future freed from the tyrannies of money or want.
During their conversation, Michael breaks into the engine room and immediately stuns the guard and Auriello, ending the scientist’s soft-interrogation of Stamets. Michael’s mission is clear; get Stamets the hell off of Discovery, so that he can’t be used to jump Discovery into Emerald Chain space. Michael then frees Stamets’ from his shackles, and he immediately heads to the spore chamber in hopes of jumping back to the nebula to rescue his lover Hugh, whom he already lost once. Michael tells him he can’t do that. She then makes things worse by letting slip that Adira, whom the engineer loves as his own child, is in the nebula as well. Stamets loses it, fearing that everyone he cares about is in danger of radiation poisoning within the nebula. With no choice, Michael is forced to give Stamets a Vulcan neck pinch to render him safely unconscious.
Note: The Vulcan neck-pinch was developed by actor Leonard Nimoy back in 1966 during the filming of TOS Star Trek’s “The Enemy Within.” Nimoy wanted a nonviolent way for his Vulcan character of Spock to immobilize someone without punching or striking them, since Vulcans were supposed to be pacifists. We later saw Michael, who was adopted and raised by Spock’s parents, use the nerve pinch on Captain Georgiou aboard the USS Shenzhou in the 2017 pilot of Star Trek: Discovery, “The Vulcan Hello”.
The negotiations between Vance and Osyrra take another downward turn as the reads the terms of her detailed armistice. He then asks her if she plans to choose someone else to represent the Chain, since she is seen by the Federation as a war criminal, and would not be a suitable choice to lead a new government. She concedes his point, and assures him she will find a suitable replacement who won’t act as her proxy. Suddenly, the lie-detecting Eli chimes in; “Not the truth.” Caught in a lie, Osyrra accuses the EMH of “glitching.” Vance makes one term of his clear; for this reunification to work, Osyrra will have to stand on trial for war crimes, in order to send a message to a new government. Pleading with her, Vance makes this argument, “Your people are good. I beg you to be as good as they are.” With that plea falling on deaf ears, the negotiations fail, and she returns to Discovery.
Note: I really thought there was a chance the negotiations might’ve succeeded, but Vance’s insistence that Osyrra stand trial for war crimes just as she was presenting a seemingly fair armistice offer pushed things too far, in my opinion. Basically, Vance wanted to have his cake, eat it, and then eat Osyrra’s slice as well. I’m not saying she’s right, but once reunified, the Federation might’ve regained enough united leverage to push her out of the job at a later date.
With the surrendered Booker and Ryn on the bridge, a wrathful Osyrra seethes at her underling Zareh for allowing so many of the prisoners to escape. Aurellio, floating nearby in his hover chair, pleads for mercy on behalf the two prisoners standing in front of her. She turns to her former slave Ryn, and asks him to fix her sabotaged internal sensors. Steeling himself, Ryn refuses to cooperate. Booker, worried for his friend’s life, offers to take Osyrra to the dilithium rich world hidden within the Verubin nebula; there, she will find enough dilithium for ten lifetimes. Seemingly satisfied with Booker’s offer, she impulsively levels her weapon at Ryn and vaporizes the hapless Andorian in front of everyone! She then orders the Viridian, still waiting outside, to open fire on the Federation shield so that she may leave…
Note: Sadly, this episode would be Ryn’s swan song on the series. Personally, I was hoping they’d make him a regular on the show. A previous Trek series, Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005) originally had plans for an Andorian crew member; the recurring villain-turned-ally Shran (Jeffrey Combs) was to become a series regular in the 5th season. Sadly, Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled at the end of its 4th (and arguably best) year.
Stamets regains consciousness, only to find himself cocooned within an atmospherically-tight forcefield. He screams and pleads with Michael to let him go so that he can rescue Hugh and Adira, but Michael is seeing a bigger picture than the self-focused engineer. Without him on Discovery to control the spore drive, Osyrra’s advantage over the Federation would be instantly neutralized. A phaser is set to overload near a bulkhead, and it blasts a hole into the vacuum outside. As Stamets is ejected within his forcefield cocoon, Federation Headquarters ensnares him in a tractor him, yanking him aboard. Things are made even worse, as a remorseful Michael is then captured by Zareh. Oh, great…
Note: Stamets’ removal from the ship, while justifiably necessary for the security of the Federation, was horribly undignified, as the man was ignored, assaulted, and blown into a vacuum. I felt genuinely bad for him, despite the fact that Michael was clearly correct. Sometimes, even the right decision doesn’t feel good, and it’s clear from Michael’s sorrow afterward that she feels exactly the same way.
Elsewhere on Discovery, Tilly, Rhys, Detmer and Owosekun find the armory. Rhys kicks the crap out of one of the Regulators, and after a bit of finagling, Tilly and company have their much-needed hand phasers. They hear a noise around a corner ahead of them. Tilly, a phaser in each hand, is fully prepared to zap the hell out of any unwanted new intruders…
… but instead she finds one, two and then three of the ship’s DOT-23 maintenance drones! Tilly is unsure who or what is controlling them, until one of the drones projects an image from an old Buster Keaton movie—the same movie which was recommended by the ship’s newfound artificial intelligence after their traumatic arrival in the 32nd century; the same artificial intelligence that has tried to protect them and keep them safe. These three drones are the embodiment of that intelligence. The lead drone politely offers, “Shall we take back the ship?”
Heroes Come In Many Forms.
The unexpected salvation for Tilly and her merry band of badass renegades comes in the form of the ship’s DOT-23 maintenance droids, possessed with the sphere data-consciousness obtained last season, which turned Discovery into a self-protecting, nurturing artificial intelligence. These three little maintenance droids, which look like militarized copies of ‘Eva’ from “Wall-E”, are now the embodiment of the ship’s ‘soul.’ This twist reminded me of the 2018 film, “Solo: A Star Wars Story”, which saw Lando Calrissian’s beloved droid L-3’s consciousness uploaded into the starship Millennium Falcon’s navigational system…making the Falcon herself semi-sentient. It also gives the show a trio of cute new droids to fawn over (ala Baby Yoda in “The Mandalorian”).
We’ve seen these DOT maintenance drones in Star Trek: Discovery for several years now, but none of them ever seemed to embody any sort of personality. Giving the ship’s super-Roombas personalities gives Star Trek its own BB-8/R2-units, and perhaps a golden merchandising opportunity down the road…? Star Trek: Discovery introduced these droids in S1 when they were seen repairing and refurbishing the ship’s hull. The Short Trek “Ephraim and Dot” featured these DOTs working on Captain Kirk’s Constitution-class USS Enterprise, which implied that these unseen worker bees have always been aboard Federation starships. This detail neatly explains how always pristine Starfleet vessels seem to self-repair so quickly without requiring dangerous spacewalks from human engineering crews to patch up every hull breach. In fact, the onscreen depiction of maintenance robots on spaceships predates both Star Wars and Star Trek: the 1972 ecology-themed sci-fi movie “Silent Running” also featured three bipedal robots (Huey, Duey and Louey) which performed routine servicing on the massive bio-domed spaceship Valley Forge. Even the International Space Station currently uses drones, as well as a floating legless automaton (Robonaut2), for occasional extravehicular activities. Makes perfect sense that they’d be standard equipment centuries from now.
Another hero returns to the show in the form of actor Kenneth Mitchell, who played multiple Klingon characters in Discovery’s first two seasons, and has become a fan favorite. Last year, Mitchell bravely went public with his ALS diagnosis (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease), which has left him wheelchair-bound since late 2019. The announcement came as a shock to the Star Trek family, but it would not mark the end of this resilient actor’s career on the show. Appearing as hover-chair assisted Emerald Chain scientist Auriello, Mitchell has returned to Star Trek in a very different and more personal capacity. Not longer in alien makeup or prosthetics, but using a much improved (CGI-assisted) hovering version of Captain Pike’s old wheelchair, Mitchell can now be himself in more ways than one. Having met the kindly actor once, briefly, at the Star Trek Las Vegas convention, I am very pleased to see him back in action in a very different way. It also speaks highly of current Star Trek’s real-life commitment to diversity and representation (which began in 1966 with the inclusion of a multi-racial crew) that a differently-abled person can also play a vital role in Star Trek’s hopeful future.
Welcome back, Kenneth Mitchell!
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 are over 336,000 as of this writing and that number is increasing by thousands daily. The newly-developed vaccines are slowly working their way into the general population, so for the time being, so please continue to practice social safe-distancing wherever possible, wear masks in public (even if you are vaccinated; the vaccine’s immunity isn’t permanent), and avoid crowded outings as much as possible. With New Year’s celebrations tonight and through the weekend, let’s all try to keep any get-togethers safe-distanced, outdoors (weather permitting) and in small numbers, please!
Live long and prosper!