“Far From Home”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 2 – Debuted Thursday, October 22, 2020
Written by Michelle Paradise & Jenny Lumet & Alex Kurtzman
Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi
With a return to more familiar ground, “Far From Home” feels like the Discovery we know, but with some welcome (for the most part) tweaks for the new season.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“We made it”
A part two in all but name, this week’s story is all about the USS Discovery and crew (sans Michael Burnham) thrust into the future. Like last week’s Michael-focused outing, we pick up the action immediately after the chaos of the season two finale, with the Disco sliding out of the wormhole towards a fractured planet and a crew suffering a severe case of the space bends. They survived this wake-up call of an opener only through some creative flying by Detmer, well-coordinated technobabbly teamwork orchestrated by Saru, and spectacular visual effects. The end result is one of the best crash landings of the franchise and a ship barely holding itself together, with a crew that isn’t any better off.
Now stuck in the ice on some (not Terralysium) world with a dubious atmosphere, the crew doesn’t know where—or even when—they are. The two MacGuffins for the week are restoring power and fixing a thingie (transtator) to get communications working again. Georgiou, fresh from gleefully dissolving Leland/Control, is being very concerned-mom about contacting Michael, especially for an evil Mirror person. A pleasantly decisive Saru puts Nhan in charge of repairs and picks an extra-flustered (and that’s saying a lot) Tilly to join him on an adventure to this strange frontier world to get the stuff (rubindium) they need to make that important phone call.
“We’re all adrift together”
“Far From Home” benefits from a brief bit of the same Icelandic location shooting as the season opener, presenting us with a very alien world. Tilly is as confused as everyone as to why she gets to go on the critical away mission, but Saru shows what kind of leader he is by assuring her, “We are introducing ourselves to the future. You, Ensign Tilly, are a wonderful first impression.” The two muster their courage and mosey their way into a saloon in a ghost town of a mining settlement and Sylvia proves the acting captain right when she deduces that offering the very skittish locals dilithium will diffuse a gun-totin’ standoff.
The townsfolk may be from Coridan but they have found themselves in a classic western, complete with some ruthless outlaws terrorizing them. Tilly and Saru start to sort out that this future they find themselves in may have cool tech (like programmable matter to fix their transtator), but the Federation and Starfleet are mere legend, leaving places like this unimaginatively named “The Colony” on their own.
Our heroes try to keep their 23rd-century origins on the down-low, but the villainous Zareh shows up with his space spurs (really!) to figure it all out, killing one of the nicer locals to prove he is still in charge. Jake Weber does his best to infuse this mustache-twirler of a baddie with some menace, but his cliched arrival provides little beyond more exposition on the post-Burn state of the galaxy. After some mundane hostage negotiating with Saru, Georgiou shows up for some Machiavellian undermining of Zareh’s gang, followed up by her martial arts routine, and demonstrating how setting weapons to just inflict pain has little effect on someone from the universe that invented agonizers.
Here’s where the episode and Doug Jones step up and demonstrate leadership with a Star Trek theme. Infused with a new level of confidence, Saru stands up to Georgiou’s casual cruelty and shows the locals that the Federation still lives, if we all just believe in it. There’s a new sheriff in this one-starship town, and he’s a Kelpien. So the miners get their dilithium, the Discovery gets its communications fixed, and Zareh gets put out to pasture in the cold of night.
“Keep at it, Cranky Pants”
Leading the charge to restore power back on Discovery is Lt. Cmdr. Stamets, who starts the episode in even worse shape than the ship after being put in a medical coma by his partner Dr. Culber in the season two finale. Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz fall right back into their perfect chemistry with some fun banter and cellular regenerating in sickbay. Paul jumps into even more fun banter when he is paired up with his onboard bête noire Jett Reno, who is determined to guide his repair work in a Jefferies tube, whether he wants it or not.
The tension gets ramped up with a frosty ticking clock in the form of parasitic ice that is also a fan of the tropes of westerns, determined to take down the Disco for good… by sundown. And like the acerbic blind leading the caustic blind, an in-severe-pain Reno guides a bleeding Stamets to the right EPS junction with a little help from her floating robot drones. Any scene with Rapp and Tig Notaro is comedy gold, and these two deliver the best moments of the episode, and it’s not just played for laughs; as they struggle to save the ship, they give us genuine dramatic tension and even character growth, followed by Jett calling Stamets “bobcat”… due to the drugs, you see.
There is also a bit of a third thread through the episode which is mostly setting up an arc for the rest of the season. After the crash, Detmer is ordered to sickbay after getting her bell rung from being tossed over her console. But even after an overworked Doctor Pollard says she is “good to go,” it’s pretty apparent Kayla is far from good, and can barely seem to go. She can be seen walking the corridors like a ghost, and the only person who seems to notice is Dr. Culber. Detmer is headed to be the ship’s poster child for the PTSD coming out of everything this crew has experienced between the Klingon War and visit to the Mirror Universe, the fight with Control, and leaving behind their pasts. This is all conveyed in just a couple of quiet moments, so Emily Coutts showed she can do more than just fly the ship (which she also seems awfully good at).
“We’re good to go”
The storylines converge as Tilly and Saru are introduced to personal transporters and returned to the ship, now ready to lift off. A distracted Detmer needs prodding to thrust Discovery out of the encroaching parasitic ice, which isn’t letting go without a fight. And if things weren’t bad enough, some “enemy” ship shows up to capture them in a tractor beam.
Saru bravely leads his crew to deal with their fate, but even with the extra ominous music, we all know what’s coming next right? The only big surprise here isn’t that they are actually being saved from the ice by Michael Burnham, but that she suddenly has some impressively-braided long hair. And with this, the unwritten “Part 2” of the season open comes full circle with Michael revealing to the elated crew she has been waiting for them for a year… Time travel, am I right?
While risky, last week’s excellent season premiere ended up benefiting with a single regular character, turning the episode into a little standalone sci-fi action/adventure movie. Writers Paradise, Lumet, and Kurtzman left a lot of the literal heavy lifting to this more grounded second part, where we returned to a familiar setting. Catching up with some of our favorite characters was fun, but they all came with their own baggage and that gave this part two a slower pace and cut down severely on the worldbuilding that could be done for this new future. Michael was able to let go of her past and explore this new future, but Saru and the crew had to be more practical and deal with the literally bloody consequences of season two, which should continue to resonate.
Returning to Disco was a great way to set up or reinforce themes for season three, including teamwork. And in both subtle and overt ways, “Far From Home” did some course corrections. Like episode one, the tone was a bit lighter than previous seasons, setting up an expectation that this is a welcome new normal for the show.
Our main characters get some season three tweaks. Saru now feels fully in command. Tilly is still a bit frazzled, but it’s more natural and not cartoonish. And when Saru cut off her WTF at the T, the show seems to be telegraphing that they may not be randomly dropping f-bombs in season three. Stamets and Culber are moving to a new and even better dynamic, without Paul losing his edge. Reno is still Reno because that perfectly fine.
Another welcome evolution is the expansion of the bridge crew, with more nice moments for secondary characters like Owo, Linus, and especially Detmer. Nhan also got a bit of a course correction after heading into a dark place towards the end of season two, giving her character a bit more of a reason to be there and a personality of her own, instead of (thankfully) becoming a Mini-Me of Georgiou.
As for Phillipa, like Saru, it’s not clear the writers know what to do with her. She claims to have joined them in the future to avoid becoming a 23rd-century bureaucrat, but really the producers just like working with Michelle Yeoh and until her Section 31 show really gets going, they want to keep her around. Hopefully, this episode isn’t the template for her to essentially act as foil to create conflict on the ship and step in periodically to do the dirty work that everyone else’s Federation ideals won’t allow.
We don’t need no stinkin’ Federation
All of the focus on characters in this episode left little time for worldbuilding, something Saru warned us about early in the episode. We learned a bit more about programmable matter—the secret sauce of 32nd-century tech—and how it needs specific recipes (programs) to work, and how couriers like Book can be much more than just delivery drivers, holding sway over territories through monopolizing the essentials.
But the thing most fans are probably noticing is the Zareh’s gang using a pidgin version of the common tongue that appears to have grown in this post-Federation frontier. Most importantly they used the term “V’draysh” for the Federation. Eagle-eared fans may remember this term being used in the excellent Short Treks episode “Calypso,” and writer Michael Chabon later confirmed it was a term for the Federation.
As we discussed in our “What Star Trek Future History Could Tie In To ‘Discovery’ Season 3?” analysis last week, “Calypso” was one of three intriguing possible connections, but for now it’s not entirely clear how it fits into the timeline of 3188. We may take a closer look at the possibilities in a follow-up.
Welcome to the future frontier
While maybe not as fun or exciting as the season opener, “Far From Home” ably finishes the job of bringing Discovery into the 32nd century. Following the frenzy of the opening minutes, the pacing was a bit languid, but perhaps that served this more character-focused episode. Director Olatunde Osunsanmi gives his actors the space to let these moments land, and thankfully is limiting his frenetic camera moves to the action moments that merit them.
The writing trio of Paradise, Lumet, and Kurtzman do an excellent job shaping (and reshaping) our favorite characters and introducing some new ones, notably the sympathetic Coridanite brothers. However, Zareh was far too clichéd, which was surprising after some of the more interesting and colorful adversaries created for the season premiere.
The special effects team has really upped their game for this season, especially with that opening sequence, but even subtler moments like programmable matter, Reno’s drones, and Linus’ blink all add up to making us feel like we really are in the future. As for the production design, it feels like they took the space western motif too far. You don’t need space spurs and swinging saloon doors to give us that frontier feeling.
Now it feels like all the pieces and people are now in place to really begin our far future adventure, with very high anticipation for a new episode coming in just a week directed by Number One himself, Jonathan Frakes.
- USS Discovery is equipped with graviton beams.
- There is a new set for cellular regeneration, which was used only briefly, so we’ll probably see it again.
- Pike’s ready room is a mess, someone is going to have to remodel.
- We have no idea who the chief engineer is or was, but Reno is acting like de facto chief.
- Georgiou takes interest in Linus’ visual spectrum of 74,000 nanometers, but we never learned why, so maybe for later?
- Zareh mentioned doing business with a “Tellarite Exchange” and the Orions.
- Discovery went into the future with 88 crew, so about 1/3 stayed behind.
- 16 of the 88 were wounded during the battle and trip.
- Even in the 32nd century, future energy weapons make lots of extraneous noises for no apparent reason.
- It’s not entirely clear what Saru’s quills do. They don’t appear to have a lethal poison as Zareh survived being hit with them, but maybe they immobilize.
- Even though the guy cleaning the cube revealed his name to be Gene after Reno called “Hazmat,” he was still credited as Ensign Hazmat.
- Deep cut of the week: Tilly cites Regulation 256.15 (“Officers shall show professional behavior at all times.”) from the TOS novel: Vulcan’s Forge
- Line of the week: Tilly to Georgiou: “Um, you have some Leland on your shoes.”
More to come
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