The second-last show of a season is usually the one that raises the stakes, before things come to a head in the finale. So what do you do with a show where things come to a head every week, and the stakes seem to go nowhere but up? What else? Raise the stakes.
After last week brought the Mirror Universe storyline to a climax, Discovery found itself out of the frying pan and into the alternate-universe frying pan, as they jumped home into the middle of a war the Federation has been losing badly in their absence. The Klingon houses are divided except in one respect—their desire to one-up each other by doing as much damage to the Federation as possible.
We learn this courtesy of Admiral Cornwell and Sarek, who show up to pull rank on Captain Saru and figure out a way for Discovery to help win the war. But while the stakes couldn’t be higher, this is a rare episode where things don’t come to a head. The episode spends a good deal catching us up, both on the state of the Federation-Klingon War, and even, in an early scene, the events of the past few episodes.
The episode also takes pains to catch us up on our characters, so while some of it feels like wheel-spinning, we also get some nice acting moments across the cast (and guest stars Michelle Yeoh and James Frain), as the characters square off over both their desperate situation, and the fallout from their previous desperate situation. Sonequa Martin-Green in particular has several great quiet scenes, as her Michael Burnham seems to be at the center of every emotional arc in the episode.
We start with Saru offering Burnham more grudging respect—the closest he ever comes to praise where Michael’s concerned. (Like Bart Simpson, he doesn’t seem able to feel pride in his onetime adversary, but does occasionally swell with less-shame) We also get more of Michael’s tense mother-daughter-doppleganger relationship with Emperor Georgiou, and a scene with father figure Sarek that’s as close to an emotional moment as Vulcans get. And then there’s her relationship to Tyler. Saru (and with him, the Federation) have forgiven Tyler for the murders he committed while Voq’s personality was in control. But he hasn’t forgiven himself, and Burnham (not to mention Stamets) isn’t ready to yet.
Even with a go-for-broke attack on the Klingons in the offing, with the fate of the entire Federation at stake, this is what passes for a quiet, thoughtful episode of Discovery, and it’s probably just what the show needs at this point. A little breather before the adrenaline starts pumping again. And, of course, the groundwork laid out for next week’s insane-looking finale. Some crazy science, a bold risky plan, and then a bolder, more devious plan hidden inside that one, with everything on the line. And of course, one last crazy twist. See you next week.
Although Lt. Detmer seems to be the most important of the background characters who populate the bridge crew, Airiam (ie. Ensign Daft Punk) gets to sit in the big chair when Saru’s not on the bridge.
Mirror Discovery was blown up by the Klingons, so we never got to find out how much havoc Captain Killy caused on the other side. It’s also seeming less and less likely that Original Lorca will be making a surprise appearance, but with this show, you never know.
Sarek and Cornwell insist on keeping the Mirror Universe secret, with the reasoning that, after the devastation of the war, anyone who lost loved ones would be desperate to meet their alternate versions. So their desire to avoid launching a thousand episodes of Fringe also neatly closes one of our continuity holes.
Past Trek reference alert:
Cornwell mentions Captain Archer’s visit to Q’onos as the last time the Federation had any direct contact with the Klingon’s mysterious homeworld.
We also get a nice reference to Discovery itself, as Tyler goes into the commissary and gets the same heads turning and conversations coming to a halt that Michael got on her first day on the ship. And again, Tilly’s willing to break the ice.
Stamets’ plan to grow more spores is an echo of, of all things, the Genesis device. (Will even Star Trek V get a shout-out before we’re done?) And like the Genesis device, it becomes a metaphor for the character’s rebirth.