“People of Earth”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 3 – Debuted Thursday, October 29, 2020
Written by Bo Yeon Kim & Erika Lippoldt
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
With the shock of entry into the future behind them, Discovery gets on with the business of the season in an episode that feels like a return to classic Star Trek stories, with a thought-provoking twist.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“Let us begin, together”
After briefly catching us up on Michael’s year growing her hair out as she searched for answers, we pick up the story right after the previous episode when she is finally reunited with the crew of the USS Discovery. There was a lot of hugging involved. Through languid voiceover and an old-fashioned briefing, Michael expositions more details on The Burn and reveals the first clue in what will be the big adventure of the season: Find and fix the United Federation of Planets.
Step one will be following up on a decade-old signal from a Starfleet admiral, which came from Earth. The Disco is headed home, but before that can happen there’s a long-anticipated bit of business to attend to, awkwardly highlighted by a confused Stamets trying to figure out who gives the order, Commander Saru or Commander Burnham. As the show’s lead, Michael makes the decision easy. In a poignant moment, she states the obvious: It’s Saru, it’s always been Saru. After they both give brief, genuinely inspirational speeches, Star Trek’s first show with an alien captain is now ready to get going.
Another bit of business to deal with is how to handle the ship’s impressive supply of dilithium, which is painting a big target on this outdated starship in an era when these now exceedingly rare crystals “are everything.” The clever solution is to hide the stash on Book’s ship under guard in the shuttlebay, which is convenient because Book and Michael don’t seem ready to say goodbye after what appears to be a year of excellent adventures as couriers together with his “fat cat.”
“You are not welcome here”
The Discovery may be old but a spinning spore-jump to Earth has Book impressed, reminding us this ship has a leg up on the 32nd century, thanks to Starfleet super-duper-classifying the technology back in the 23rd century. Wary of what they may find, they slink into the Sol system only to find the beautiful blue marble right where it should be, looking fine with a fancy new planetary shield. Also new, a xenophobic “United Earth Defense Force” that is very much not rolling out the welcome mat for this long-lost Federation vessel.
Asked to leave, the newly minted Captain Saru deftly talks these paranoid humans into letting his generational Starfleet ship (cover story) remain if it passes a rudely invasive inspection. Turns out, Earth went solo from the Federation after The Burn and Starfleet left town to parts unknown a century ago. As for Admiral Senna Tal, he died 12 years ago. This whole road trip is turning out to be a big bust.
The Discovery crew keeps their spore drive and hidden cache of crystals on the down-low as the EDF team is crazy-paranoid about dilithium raiders. And right on schedule, the “relentless” raider named Wen (with his big giant glowing red-eyed robot head) shows up and demands all their precious space rocks, not buying the cover story. That’s enough for EDF Captain Ndoye to kick the Disco out of the Earth system entirely, but she and her inspectors are trapped on the ship by something (sabotage?) blocking their cool, but apparently limited, personal transporters.
“We get it, you’re smart”
One of the EDF inspectors on the ship garners the notice of Stamets and Tilly for being even ruder than the rest. In an impressive introduction, we meet Blu del Barrio as Adira, a precocious teen genius who drops some shade on the Disco, which Tilly did not take well. But Stamets and Tilly notice there is something off about this “tween menace” who is asking some too-pointed questions about their “museum” of a ship.
After a confrontation, Adira reveals she knows his lab is not just a lab, so the mycologist spills all the time-traveling spore-driving beans, knowing this “inspector” won’t say a word due to being the one responsible for the sabotage—so not really part of Team Earth. While definitely a brat, Adira may also be the key to the step on season three’s fetch quest, revealing knowledge of Admiral Tal. In just a handful of moments, young Blu del Barrio shows some quick fun chemistry with Anthony Rapp and Mary Wiseman, making Adira’s desire to team up with this Starfleet crew welcome.
“I am different”
Another thread running through this episode shines a light on changes in the lead character of Michael Burnham, who has spent a year gallivanting around the lawless 32nd century as a courier. In her opening log she makes it clear she has been letting go of her past, and even though she hasn’t stopped searching for her lost shipmates, this seems to include her connection to the Discovery itself.
Sonequa Martin-Green seamlessly adds more layers to her Michael, who is now lighter, more fun, even flirty. And everyone notices, from Tilly, to Saru, to Book, to surrogate Mirror-mom Georgiou, who likes the Burnham who has tasted freedom. Michael is now torn between her carefree life of wisecracking space adventures with Book and their will-they-won’t-they-of-course-they-will vibe, and her calling to Starfleet duty and mission to restore the Federation. Some may call this the latest course-correction for the character to increase her appeal, others the natural growth of the show’s pivotal character. Perhaps both are true, and luckily, Martin-Green has enough range to sell the evolution.
We also see some elements of change within the crew. In a nice moment, Michael and Tilly just get to be “I love your hair” girlfriends again, pivoting from genuine emotion as Tilly mourns for the fallen at a memorial wall of Starfleet badges. The episode also picks up on the there’s something wrong with Detmer thread, as the ship’s pilot vacillates between indecisiveness and insubordination… she has definitely lost her mojo, or is there something more to it? Jonathan Frakes shows why he is considered an actors’ director as he allows these important character beats the time they need to breathe.
“We have work to do”
Showing her reckless independent streak, Michael decides to solve the raider problem herself by jumping ship with Book and all that juicy dilithium. The Earthicans aren’t about to allow the raiders to get their hands on all that bounty so things escalate pretty quickly. Captain Saru isn’t sure what the hell she is up to, but decides to back her play using the Discovery itself as a shield, which may be a bit foolhardy as the ship and its defenses are centuries out of date, which becomes clear after a single shot takes out their shields.
Wen falls for the bluff and gets captured by Book and Michael, who dump him and his giant glowing head onto the bridge of the Disco. He and Captain Ndoye quickly descend into teen-level you-started-it-type arguing until momma Georgiou intervenes by kicking off the giant head, revealing a scraggly human ably played by Christopher Heyerdahl underneath. Through a series of handwaving conveniences, it turns out Wen and his gang of raiders are just what’s left of a research station on Saturn’s moon Titan that ran into bad times after splitting off from Earth. And through the magic of Starfleet ideals (punctuated by some soaring Trek theme music), Saru and Michael get these two long-lost brethren to talk and bury the space hatchets. Isn’t that nice?
Things wrap up in a tidy bow with the placated but still paranoid Earthlings making an exception and letting the Discovery crew have a nice visit with a (very) old remembered tree on the former grounds of Starfleet Academy. And they are open to a return visit, so maybe there’s hope for these people after all. For the time being, Michael says goodbye to Book and hello again to Discovery, accepting the role of first officer as she and Saru begin to rebuild their trust.
And the big arc for the season moves forward as Adira has been allowed to remain on the ship, revealed to be a problematic human host of a Trill, and more importantly Admiral Tal himself. Figuring out how to unlock all those Trill memories are tantalizingly left to the next episode.
Good ol’ Star Trekking
After two exciting (okay, maybe one exciting and one moseying) episodes introducing us into the 32nd century, this third outing got down to the more complicated business of season three: finding out where Federation got stuck in a ditch and giving it a jump start. With a more languid pace and some longer-winded speechifying and expositioning, “People of Earth” felt a bit like a throwback to traditional Star Trek of years past, and maybe that’s okay. To get the plot moving forward along with some needed character time, there was a lot of talking. And Jonathan Frakes is the perfect choice for an episode like this.
A clever twist on traditional Star Trek storytelling was how the episode felt like a good old planet-of-the-week outing, with a crew showing up to a strange new world and through the force of their ideals, making it a better place. Having the strange new world be a Federation-free Earth, makes it all the more intriguing, and drives home the themes of the season. There is also some comfort in the allegories on display: finding an idyllic Earth turning its back on a troubled galaxy with the message “we can take care of ourselves.” Were some of the beats of this a bit ham-fisted? Were things like the lack of communications and the helmet a bit too convenient to maintain the surprise? Absolutely. But is this all part of Star Trek tradition? You bet your five-year-mission they are.
Discovery writers Bo Yeon Kim and Erika Lippoldt have always shone when it comes to character development and this episode found time to deliver on that front, especially putting the new and improved Michael Burnham on display. Saru’s first mission as captain showed he was worthy of the full rank. And the introduction of Adira was both fun and intriguing.
It’s interesting to watch how this writing duo treats Georgiou, giving us a glimpse of how the character at the heart of the Section 31 series will run if it ever gets off the ground. Michelle Yeoh does a fine job as this wisecracking agent able to quickly suss out the situation in this new new era and willing to take action when needed. But the former Emperor still feels like a bit of a square peg in a ship full of fish out of water. If they need someone to throw a punch they have Nhan, for sarcasm you really can’t beat Reno, and if you are in the market for a mother figure for Michael, how about finding her actual real mom, who we are told is nowhere to be found.
I didn’t know there was going to be math
We are just three episodes in so there is still plenty of time to suss out the “What is the Burn?” mystery, but episode three dropped quite a lot more into the pile, some of which created more questions. We learn that The Burn was a two-step process, with dilithium mines drying up 700 years after they left the 23rd century, and then the remaining dilithium exploding later, taking most of Starfleet with it. After failing to come up with a new way to warp, the Federation soon fell. What remained of the Federation left Earth about a century before the Disco arrived.
This timeline puts The Burn in the 30th century, which may not jibe with what we thought we knew about future history thanks to Daniels and Enterprise’s Temporal Cold War. It also many not jibe with what we were told about the Federation leaving Earth in the 31st century. But maybe there is time to sort out all this math later.
We are told that The Burn’s devastation “flashed in an instant, across all known space,” which Stamets says should be impossible. For now, The Burn is still intriguing, but it’s also getting a bit confusing, which was one of the problems we saw with the whole Red Angel thing.
A welcome refuge
“People of Earth” was a well-balanced meal of traditional Star Trek. It may not all have been good for us, but it was still welcome comfort food. The episode benefited from strong performances from Mary Wiseman, Sonequa Martin-Green, and new entrant Blu del Barrio. Jeff Russo’s score was also on point to bring a smile to the lighter moments, an edge to the action, and the feels to the family and Starfleeting.
We now can see the path forward. The search for Starfleet is our new search for Spock. The previews for the next episode show us the logical, and yet intriguing next step. So far season three remains a delight and surprising change of pace for Discovery. In these heavy times, the lighter tone, warm feelings, and optimism are a balm for 2020.
- Burham’s log was on Stardate 865211.3.
- The USS Discovery has DOT-7 robots, used to fix damage caused in the crash landing.
- For the first time, we see the dilithium storage on the USS Discovery.
- Book’s ship can be reconfigured, it was able to compress to fit into the shuttle bay.
- When working as courier Michael piloted smaller craft, possibly a shuttle or pod from Book’s ship.
- Even though Book’s name is Cleveland, he is not from Earth and has never been there.
- Book again says his cat Grudge “is a queen.”
- Tilly mentions the Gateway Arch.
- The EDF ships used quantum torpedos.
- Michael mentions she and Book had an adventure at Donatu VII, likely part of the same system as Donatu V.
- Although announced as a non-binary character, Adira was referred to in the episode using the female pronoun “she,” instead of “they” as used in the press release. Perhaps this will be addressed in a future episode.
- Saru still has Captain Georgiou’s telescope from the USS Shenzhou, given to him by Michael back in season one.
- Quote of the week: “Cake is eternal.”
- Bonus quote: “A viewscreen. How quaint.”
More to come
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