Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 5 – Debuted Thursday, November 12, 2020
Teleplay by Sean Cochran; Story by James Duff & Sean Cochran
Directed by Maja Vrvilo
A strong episode that moves the season’s plot forward while still delivering a classic mystery of the week storytelling. While there was some indulgence in fan service, “Die Trying” more importantly espoused Star Trek ideals. The episode was helped with the introduction of some new intriguing characters, all keeping this season’s track record of strong guest actors going.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“Tell them the USS Discovery is reporting for duty”
After a few episodes of Federation foreplay, we start things off by finally hooking up with Starfleet. After penetrating “some kind of distortion field” the opening teaser thrusts the USS Discovery into the inner sanctum of what remains of the fleet. The crew rushes to the windows to indulge in some Starship porn to an extent that would make Admiral James T. Kirk blush. Interspaced with the 32nd-century technobabble and the spectacular visual effects were a number of freeze-frame moments of fan delight.
After everyone has the equivalent of a smoke, Michael and Saru get introduced to Starfleet’s CinC, who is a tall glass of cold water. Admiral Charles Vance—ably played by Sleeper Cell’s Oded Fehr—isn’t ready to roll out the smart red carpet for these long-lost souls of Starfleet past with a mushroom-fueled time-travel crazy-AI-fighting story that doesn’t match what’s in Federation records. (Remember: Captain Pike and Spock ensured the true nature of the Disco would be lost to the ages of canon.) This much-diminished Federation is still fighting the good fight, but they are short on trust and fresh out of hope after the fire sale that was The Burn—oh and they don’t have any definitive answers on that either.
With the ship ordered for analysis and the crew set to be reassigned, Saru and Michael throw a Hail Mary and offer to put the Disco to the test to solve the immediate crisis of alien refugees suffering from some incurable disease. The solution is to track down a distant seed ship to find a cure for the Kili, and the spore drive is the only way to get to it in time. This episode could have spent the whole hour with just Tilly (“All this is after I got my hair blown out and became a Terran captain/dominatrix”) and Reno (“It was raining Starfleet officers. Did you bring any snacks?”) being debriefed by befuddled AI holograms, but duty calls.
“He’s still trying to save them”
The deal with the Admiral is to send Discovery out with Michael in command, under the watchful eye of his icy security chief Willa, while Saru stays behind as some kind of guest/hostage. Surprisingly, this is the first time we have ever seen Burnham in command of the USS Discovery, and both she and Sonequa Martin-Green rise to the occasion, with “let’s show them who we are” and more.
Things get all foreboding with the arrival at the seed ship’s last known location, where the seed ship is nowhere to be found but there is a big scary ion storm. The USS Tikhov is located and pulled out of the cloud through some scary skillful maneuvering by Owo and Detmer, only to find the ship seemingly abandoned and running on batteries. Nhan continues her season three rehabilitation program as she gleefully joins Michael and Dr. Culber on the landing party as the ship is under the care of a Barzan family. Once inside, they find it overgrown like a jungle of Nhan’s native planet, with something mysterious in the dark and scary brush.
“The weakness of people is generally other people”
One of the more revealing debriefings was that of Emperor Georgiou. Finally, we get into the vexing question of what Georgiou is even doing here in season three, beyond giving Michelle Yeoh something to do before heading off to the Section 31 show in development. Phillipa’s debriefing has extra scrutiny, with two AIs questioning her under the watchful eye of a curious bespectacled onlooker. And for this role, Discovery took on the Mandalorian challenge and raised one Werner Herzog with another legendary director, David Cronenberg.
After Georgiou toys with and then easily dispatches the holograms like a cat, the real talk begins with this mystery man who knows all about Terrans, literally down to the subatomic level. With all her trademark bluster, it’s clear he has her on the back foot, in a series of scenes that Cronenberg and Yeoh chew up with abandon. The former Emperor is clearly not happy to hear the Empire fell, and things started going bad as soon as she left the Mirror Universe. Even more curious, no one has crossed over for centuries. But worst of all, this Kovich has her wicked number, sussing out her true weakness… she actually cares about someone onboard the USS Discovery.
This whole encounter leaves Georgiou shaken, with something definitely off as she returns to the ship. The story of Georgiou is finally starting to get interesting, but will be left for a future episode.
“Keep us together and let us help”
The mystery of what is haunting the odd seed ship gets solved by phoning the Geek Squad back on Discovery. Tilly, Reno, and Stamets have an “I know what duh means” banter-off as they sort out exactly what kind of radiation killed the family, why pops is haunting the ship out of phase, and how to get him back. Lt. Willa is grudgingly impressed with how the “unprofessional” team on this “fossil” of a ship solves problems so well. But the real test is getting Dr. Attis to let go of the past (ding ding, hello theme) and help them cure some big-head aliens. Michael drops some truth. There were some tears. Then Nhan drops the Barzan bomb. She is going to stay on the ship and guide it to her long lost home. More tears, of course, but Rachael Ancheril makes it work in her best work—and possibly last—work on the show. (Although there’s always room for a visit later.)
Back at HQ, the Kili healed, the Admiral is also impressed with Nhan’s dedication as well as the bravery shown by Owo and Detmer, although he, too, noticed Keyla isn’t flying on all nacelles. This crew jumped at the chance to take risks to save some aliens they had never even heard of before, and what could be more Starfleet than that? Captain Saru pounces on this opening to show Vance how the Discovery can help lead a renaissance for the Federation out of the post-Burn Dark Ages. The ship, its spore drive, and crew of 23rd-century cockeyed optimists can help this UFP that has been too phaser-focused on the plasma fire in front of them to look up and see the stars again. It’s a bit corny, with references to obscure Italian painters too on-the-nose, but it’s still very Star Trek, and certainly Discovery at its earnest best. And with that, the USS Discovery is back in Starfleet, baby.
The episode wraps again with a solemn moment between Captain Saru and his growingly insubordinate number one Michael Burnham. She still hasn’t shaken the freedom of her gap year and the Kelpien can see how this risks their tenuous relationship with the skittish Starfleet brass. They share a benediction to their belief in the Federation, but there is still a schism between them that threatens to grow. But that is for another episode.
Striking a balance
Once you push through all the exposition, ship porn, and fan service, “Die Trying” is a fine example of the mysterious-ship-of-the-week subgenre of Star Trek. It finely balanced the season arcs with a good standalone story and just enough character development. Getting this balance right has been a struggle for Discovery in the past, but season three seems to be getting it right. There were a lot of moving parts to deal with here, so scribe Sean Cochran deserves credit for making it work.
“Die Trying” also excelled at introducing a number of new characters, with Oded Fehr’s Admiral Charles Vance being the prime example. Instead of falling into the badmiral trope, this Commander in Chief was able to get into conflict with our heroes without being the bad guy. His security chief Lt. Willa (Vanessa Jackson) also showed some character growth, although it looks like her introduction is coming at the expense of saying goodbye to Nhan just when she was getting interesting.
Sonequa Martin-Green continues to carry a lot of the load as she embodies the subtle yet profound shift in the tone of the show, carrying the optimism of the Federation, but with a bit of an edge. Of course, she and the show also can’t help themselves in indulging in a bit too much speechifying, Burnham-deifying, and melodrama, but that perhaps has just become part of the background radiation of the show.
Now we have even more questions
“Die Trying” dumped a lot of exposition on the state of things in the 32nd century. The Andorian/Orion alliance seen in episode 31 is called the Emerald Chain, and it is led by someone named Osyrra. The Federation is down to 38 member words from a high of 350. Technology has advanced greatly, including organic ships, detached nacelles, and better holograms, that strangely sound more robotic, but perhaps that is a choice to keep them distanced from “real” people.
Kronenberg’s Kovich is a very intriguing character. Could he be from the Mirror Universe himself? Is he part of a 32nd-century version of Section 31? And has he done something to Georgiou? He said he understood Terran biology, so perhaps he got inside her head. It’s good the show is finally using Michelle Yeoh’s Georgiou for an intriguing storyline and not just keeping her around to punch people and make snarky remarks.
As for the season’s big mystery, The Burn remains an enigma, and Starfleet doesn’t seem to have the time to sort it out. So the ball is still in Michael’s court on that one. “We have more theories than ships in the fleet. Never found enough data,” they say, so challenge accepted for Burnham to fix the Federation, again. We did pick up something that could be a clue, in the form of a melody heard last episode played by Gray and Adira that apparently is widely known to multiple cultures that have been separated by The Burn.
All in all, a good episode for fans keeping up on the show’s mythology.
Overall the production on season three continues to hum along nicely. Jeff Russo’s more active score swells when it needs to, and gives you a taste of the past at just the right moments, including a nice dollop of the Voyager theme. The visual effects were some of the best on the show just yet, especially with the 32nd Starfleet parking lot—take that Picard season finale with your uniform ship designs.
And beyond the fun of checking out all those different ships, there could have been a point to the focus on the beautiful USS Voyager-J. After years of fans clamoring for a post-Star Trek: Voyager show, nothing says we are in the future than seeing a ship carrying on the legacy of the last of the 90s TNG-era shows.
While undeniably modern in style and production value, season three of Discovery continues to feel more and more like the classic shows in terms of tone and theme. Like the ship and crew passing their test, Discovery has passed its test of being worthy of the name Star Trek.
Random extra bits
- Among the 32nd century Starfleet ships was the USS Nog (NCC-325070) named Nog, the first Ferengi in Starfleet, and a nice tribute to Deep Space Nine actor Aron Eisenberg who passed away last year.
- In addition to the new USS Voyager-J, the crew also spotted what they believed to be a new Constitution-class ship, but no indication if it was the latest version of the USS Enterprise. If there is a 32nd-century Enterprise, they would likely want to play that card for a more dramatic reveal.
- Admiral Nance mentions how the Federation spent the 30th-century fighting to uphold the Temporal Accords, noting that technically the time-traveling USS Discovery breaks the law against time travel.
- Adira Tal was summoned to HQ with Saru and Michael, but we never saw her again, which is unfortunate as her debriefing could have answered a lot of questions.
- Saru is very happy his home planet of Kaminar has joined the Federation, so we can count them out as suspects for The Burn.
- The Emerald Chain was spotted in the Sigma Draconis system.
- ELI the EMH was played by Brendan Beiser, who X-Files fans may remember as Agent Pendrell
- Kovich was born on April 5th, First Contact Day in the Prime Universe and a holy day (but not a “high holy day”) in the Terran Empire.
- The USS Tikhov is named for Soviet astrophysicist Gavriil Adrianovich Tikhov who is considered to be the father of astrobotony.
- We hear the Barzan language for the first time.
- Why wasn’t Burnham supplied with master access codes to the seed vault before being sent on the mission?
- Giotto di Bondone was indeed an influential painter of the proto-Rennaissance era, and he even has his own website at giottodibondone.org.
- Line of the week: “I was murdered. That can really do a number on you. But my murderer and I are good now.”
More to come
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New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery premiere on Thursdays on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, where it’s also available to stream on Crave. Episodes are available on Fridays internationally on Netflix.
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