Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A terrific Star Trek: Discovery finds familiar faces in an unfamiliar time

Mary Wiseman as Tilly, Doug Jones as Saru
Mary Wiseman as Tilly, Doug Jones as Saru
Photo: Michael Gibson/CBS
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Given how “Far From Home” ends, it’s understandable that Star Trek: Discovery opened its third season with last week’s episode—Michael is, after all, the main character, and the time jump probably wouldn’t have had the same impact if we learned about it without checking in with her first. All the same, I can’t help wishing that this episode had been the season premiere. It works much better as an introduction to the new season, checking back in with all the major players without straining, reminding us who they are and why we like them, all while delivering a suspenseful story that expresses its theme via context. Yes, the music is still a bit much at times (it’s possible to have an emotion without having someone jam it down your throat, show), but apart from that, I’m struggling to come up with much in the way of complaints. “That Hope Is You” had its share of intriguing elements, but I spent as much time rolling my eyes as I did getting interested. “Home” has me hooked, and legitimately excited for what comes next.

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When last we left Discovery… well, you remember, right? Control, that sphere thing, end-of-the-universe-threat, let’s all jump nine hundred years into the future with no hope of returning because we really like this other person, our family and other friends be damned, etc. Where “Hope” followed Michael’s immediate adventures after the jump, “Home” has Discovery popping into the future and then crashing on a planet with no name, its systems damaged to the point where it’s incapable of flight—and worse, they can’t communicate, which means they can’t try and contact Michael, not that they know where she is. After some initial disruption (including an increasingly unsettled Detmer), everyone gets to work fixing the ship. Unfortunately the repairs require resources that Discovery doesn’t have; but as luck would have it, there’s a colony nearby that does have said resources. Saru just needs to manage first contact with a future they still know almost nothing about.

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In some ways this is similar to Michael’s solo adventure—trapped in unknown territory, surrounded by (possible) evil, low on gas. But whereas Michael’s story felt rushed to get to an overly determined conclusion, “Home” is well paced and fun throughout, with terrific crew banter and a clear sense of character relationships. Whatever its faults, Discovery has built a good ensemble for itself, and the episode uses that ensemble to maximum advantage, pairing off individuals in ways that manage to bring out the best in both parties.

Take Paul and Jet. Last season established the antagonism between the two, and “Home” just runs with it, putting them both in engineering and letting Tig Notaro’s unfazed deadpan bounce of Anthony Rapp’s tightly wound irritation. It’s not the focus of the hour, and plot-wise, it’s mostly just reminding us that Paul pushes himself too hard, but it works to endear me to both characters, as well as reinforcing the importance of Paul’s relationship with Dr. Culber. The casual intimacy between the latter two is a nice lived in touch, and there’s no sense of straining to make sure we get how lovely everyone is. They’re a couple, they get exasperated with each other, and they still have a job to do. It’s not the most complicated writing in the world, but it doesn’t need to be to land.

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The dramatic centerpiece of the hour is Saru and Tilly’s efforts to reach out to a local colony of miners and trade for supplies. It’s a good, gripping story, including an excellent villain turn from Jake Weber as a greedy courier named Zara (Book talked a bit about couriers last week; it makes sense that they’d be important to this dilithium-light future, and this is a great way to show us the dark side of that). Unsurprisingly Saru makes a good captain, and his commitment to Federation ideals works better than Michael’s immediate determination last week, because we get a much clearer sense here of what that commitment can cost. It’s not an empty gesture, or an easy one, and it may not even be one that everyone agrees with. What matters is that he believes it, and remains consistent in those beliefs in compelling ways.

The big problem with “Hope”’s Federation love was the implicit assumption that Michael’s faith in the institution was an unquestionable good. It’s not that we need examples of Federation corruption; it’s that the argument was apparently decided before it opened the floor for debate. A tautology is useful in logic, but it’s not an effective storytelling device. Here, though, we have Saru deciding to take Tilly with him instead of Georgiou, prioritizing peaceful negotiation over violence; and later we have Saru ordering Georgiou to hand over her weapon and not kill a man in cold blood. But between those two moments, we also see Saru and Tilly getting in over their heads; while the initial conversation with the miners goes well, Zara’s arrival ruins everything, and it’s only the fact that Georgiou decided to pop by and murder a bunch of baddies that our heroes leave with their blood still in their bodies. It’s possible that Saru could’ve talked his way out of Zara’s plot, but Georgiou’s ruthlessness is a much safer bet, and the resultant contrast at once highlights the value of the Federation’s philosophy (in that we already know a universe of Georgious is not a pleasant place to live) while also reminding us of its limitations.

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That’s smart, effective writing, and the actors make the most of it. “Home” isn’t a classic, but it is a fine example of what makes Trek such an appealing franchise by focusing on the crew, letting them bounce off one another in high stress situations. The world-building is good as well; the idea of “parasitic ice” is such a cool and creepy one that I kind of wish the whole episode was centered around it. Thankfully, what we got works just fine as is.

Stray observations

  • Very good use of Tilly here, as the balance of insecurity, intelligence, and frustration well-done throughout. The biggest problem with the character is the way the show wants to jump straight past her more awkward aspects to make her into a series mascot (Saru’s “You, Ensign Tilly, are a wonderful first impression” is very sweet but borders on mawkish), but here she’s a bit much but in a way that’s very easy to relate to.
  • “My name lacks authority.” -Tilly
  • “I’m offering moral support.” -Jet
  • “Thanks for nothing, Jet.” “Right back at you, Bobcat.” “Bobcat?” “I don’t know, I’m on drugs.”
  • What’s up with Detmer? I can’t remember how advanced her implant is, but I’m wondering if they’re laying the groundwork for Control to come back.
  • So, Michael shows up at the end in a ship of her own and tells Saru and the others that she’s been looking for them for a year. I wonder how much work she’s done on her “bring back the Federation project;” it would explain why the miners are able to immediately recognize Discovery’s signature.
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