“Choose to Live”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 4, Episode 3 – Debuted Thursday, December 2, 2021
Written by Terri Hughes Burton
Directed by Christopher J. Byrne
“Choose to Live” weaves together multiple disparate but engaging stories held together by some thematic elements. While each has noteworthy elements and strong performances, the episode doesn’t give any of the stories the full attention they deserve.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“I will bring her to justice”
The main story of this three-story episode focuses on the manhunt (actually nunhunt) for a renegade Qowat Milat named J’Vini who has been hijacking dilithium shipments and really crossed the line by killing a Starfleet officer. Due to the delicate politics of the pending Federation reintegration of Ni’Var (formerly Vulcan), Presidents T’Rina and Rillak agree to a joint operation headed up by Captain Burnham and her time-traveler mother Gabrielle Burnham, who joined the Qowat Milat on Ni’Var in season 3. It’s unclear why J’Vini and her mercenaries are stealing the now plentiful dilithium, but the crime spree started after the discovery of this season’s big bad: the Gravitational Anomaly. First Officer Saru suggests Tilly round out the four-person away mission, noting her ability to keep people at ease and satisfying Dr. Culber’s orders for her to try things outside her “comfort zone” to help address her identity crisis funk.
Borrowing Book’s ship, they follow the trail of the tracker left in the stolen dilithium, and Gabrielle reveals this mission is personal: J’Vini was the nun that took her on as a lost cause and nursed her back to health. After Tilly bonds with the other nun with “absolute candor, I dig that,” things get awkward when Gabrielle demands they respect the Qowat Milat ways and trade in their phasers for swords—which Tilly, of course, immediately drops. The trail leads them to a lifeless moon, but as soon as they figure out there is a hidden interior, J’Vini shows up for another swordfight action sequence, in which her mercs and the red shirt Qowat Milat nun end up on the short end of some swords. Ignoring the warning not to follow, the now-a-trio discovers a vast interior crypt full of alien pods and evidence of grave robbers. When the engine fires up courtesy of the stolen dilithium, Gabrielle channels her inner Obi Wan, revealing, “This isn’t a moon, it’s a ship.” Dun dun dunnnn.
“I’ve been living in an in-between place for too long already”
After being promised at the end of season three and teased in the previous two episodes, Culber is finally ready to bring Gray into the real world via an android body he put together in sickbay. Getting Gray’s consciousness out of Adira and into the android is being subcontracted out to Trill Guardian Xi, who oversees the proceedings as a hologram. The procedure is not without its risks, and once “unjoined,” there is no guarantee the new body and mind will connect. With Gray in limbo, Adira gets increasingly anxious as they wait for the process to work for most of the episode, they take a break to get some fatherly advice from Culber in the ship’s groovy new bar. Eventually, Adira returns to sickbay, telling the still-lifeless Gray android, “I’m here reaching out, and I’ll be here until you come back.” It works. Gray eventually comes to life with hugs all around (except for the hologram Xi) and lets Adira know he may be a real boy now, but “we’ll always be linked Adira, always.” Aww.
“I need all brains on deck here”
Our third story features Book and Stamets, who remain teamed up like a mismatched buddy cop duo following their near-death bonding in the previous episode. This week, they are trying to sort out all the data retrieved from the anomaly, so they head to the Ni’Var Science Institute to get those big Vulcan brains in on the analysis. Stamets has given the anomaly a new name: the “Dark Matter Anomaly” or “DMA,” with a working theory that it is a primordial wormhole, but there is one missing piece of evidence to confirm it. Paul is a bit disappointed; instead of a meeting of the minds on Ni’Var, he is told to wait while they do some power meditating to find the link. They’re unfazed by his snarky “science first, nap later,” so Paul is left to sit and admire the AR Wall scenery. T’Rina takes the time to offer some comfort to Book, showing a surprising amount of empathy as she argues the guilt he is carrying is illogical.
In the end, the science guys reveal they can find no evidence of tachyons, so the theory remains unproven. President T’Rina has a radical idea: Give the one witness to the destruction of Kwejian a mind meld to see if he noticed the visual signs. Paul worries about Book reliving the trauma yet again, but Book dismisses this and says he’s ready, so T’Rina dives in and starts running Book’s memories like a DVR. He uses the opportunity to get a closer look at his final moments with his brother and nephew, actually finding some peace when he’s able to see the love in Leeto’s eyes as they parted. As for the evidence to prove Stamets’ theory, that turned out to be a bust, leaving the anomaly as unknowable as ever—but Book still sees the visit as a win thanks to that mind meld.
“It’s the path they are meant to be on”
Back on the moonship, Tilly starts to shut down the engines as Michael sorts out the unknown species backstory thanks to some wall carvings and her expertise in xenoanthropology. Turns out they’re actually on a sleeper ship that escaped a supernova, and then arrived at its intended destination. With Tilly left alone as “bait,” J’Vani shows up for yet more fight stuff, eventually holding a blade to her former friend Gabrielle’s neck to explain she had (in Qowat Milat tradition) taken on these telepathic aliens (named “Abronians”) as her lost cause, and the dilithium stealing was to give them a Plan B in case the DMA turned their way and they needed to bail; she couldn’t just ask on the aliens’ behalf because she didn’t want to fill out all that Federation paperwork revealing their location. Michael offers to fix the cryosystem so they can wake the aliens, releasing J’Vani from her oath. With that sorted, the renegade nun is soon in custody and they leave the aliens to settle their new planet without even staying for coffee and a “thanks for saving our civilization” chat.
Despite being of little help during all the fighting, Tilly helped the mission by brokering some of the tension between mother and daughter Burnham, who have some nice bonding moments. Sylvia has been profoundly affected by seeing the clarity of purpose demonstrated by the Qowat Milat and uses it to reflect on her own path in life. Returning to Federation HQ with their prisoner, Michael requests J’Vani’s mission to save the Abronians mitigate her punishment, but she is surprised when the nun is immediately remanded to T’Rina and Ni’Var custody. Rillak makes it clear she needs Ni’Var to fight the anomaly and handing over a murdering nun is just part of the political price. “Your role in this has now concluded, Captain.” Michael isn’t happy, but Vance talks her down with a nice analogy about symphonies and how she is the showy first chair violinist. We end with a calmer Michael settling in with Book in her quarters, happy to find him more at peace following his solemn interaction with T’Rina.
Surprising character moments
After a strong couple of episodes to kick off the season, Discovery takes a bit of a diversion here with a complicated mix of smaller stories only tangentially linked to each other or to the overall season arc. Giving themselves permission by revealing that no systems are threatened by the big bad Anomaly, our characters are paired off for a series of adventures. But there is some connective tissue thematically all tied to “choose to live” becoming a bit of a mantra for each story, especially for Tilly, Book, and Gray.
With the main storyline focused on the Qowat Milat, mysterious aliens, and a reunion of Michael and her mother Gabrielle, the heart of this part of the episode was Tilly’s journey. Throughout the season she has been out of sorts, and here she is trying something way out of her comfort zone as she struggles with a crisis of confidence and even identity. Mary Wiseman was a delight as she brilliantly balanced some of her trademark comedy (that had been mostly absent from the first two episodes) along with some thoughtful emotion as she works through how she will “choose to live,” telegraphing that the path she has been on has ended. While this character arc was satisfying, the multiple spinning plates of the episode didn’t allow much time to explore the intriguing new alien species, and the decision to just leave before they awoke from their long slumber and skip the whole first contact thing was inexplicable.
The visit to Ni’Var Science Institute ended up not being the technobabble-filled exposition you might imagine, much to Stamets’ “math-math-math” chagrin, but instead provided a surprising story about the one character who came along for the ride: in this case, Book. Tara Rosling rose to the occasion, together with David Ajala, to help bring Book back from his grief. It was clever to have a Vulcan do this as both part of the surprise and to show how they, too, have evolved over the many centuries. The floating meditation room itself was another nice use of the new AR wall, giving us some spectacular vistas of Ni’Var (aka Vulcan), a fan-favorite Star Trek location. This makes up for the visit to Ni’Var in season three where they never left the ship, although it would have been nice to see Michael return home or Saru have a moment with T’Rina, who we are still shipping.
Thankfully, the Gray becoming seen storyline has finally been fulfilled, as the ghost boyfriend thing had worn out its welcome even before the last season ended. The process of transferring wasn’t fully clear; although Guardian Xi did mention Zhian’tara, it’s still not clear how that ritual of meeting past hosts fits in. It was also an odd choice to have Xi there as a hologram, especially when he literally handwaves over Gray and yet could “sense” the consciousness. Thankfully all of this is behind us, and Gray is now a real character capable of interacting with others onboard. Blu del Barrio delivered a great performance as they went through all of this, with able help from Wilson Cruz’s Dr. Culber playing father figure, counselor, and boyfriend resurrector.
As with the previous episode, it was nice for Michael Burnham to take a bit of a back seat to allow for these other characters’ stories to thrive, and we still got some nice moments with her and her mom. She and Sonja Sohn showed their best chemistry on the show yet, with Gabrielle fitting in organically into the story much more so than she did in season three. We also have some more tension between Michael and President Rillak, hinting the two are in for more conflict to come. Chelah Horsdal continues to be a great addition to the season, going toe-to-toe with Sonequa Martin-Green.
Living with uncertainty
As with the previous episode, the theme of uncertainty continued with the frustratingly slow progress on understanding the nature of the Gravitational Anomaly (now called the DMA), the main focus of the season. Stamets moved on from his binary black hole theory to the primordial wormhole theory, which also appears to be wrong, leaving the threat entirely unpredictable. We did learn the DMA’s destructive range was given as 12 AU, but that actually opens up a new mystery—it’s actually not that far when you consider that our closest stellar neighbor is almost 300,000 AUs distant. Even though the DMA was described as 5 light-years in size in the previous episode, it’s not clear how it’s moving fast enough to threaten the galaxy.
With a total of 13 episodes, it appears that the mystery of the Gravitational Anomaly will be a slow drip, and perhaps as more of a thematic backdrop for the season instead of dominating each episode. Like the allegory to the pandemic itself, life must go on, and everyone must find ways to work within the new context of the looming DMA.
The sum of its parts
With much to enjoy, the episode suffers from uneven pacing and a complicated mix of character and plotlines. While more entertaining, “Choose to Live” was reminiscent of earlier middle-season Discovery episodes suffering from too many spinning plates; usually those don’t come so early in the season. But there is still enough good stuff going on and hints of some interesting paths to keep the intrigue up and anticipate what is to come.
- The episode title “Choose to Live” is a phrase said by Qowat Milat warrior nuns giving opponents a last chance to retreat, first introduced on Star Trek: Picard.
- This is the first Discovery writing credit for Terri Hughes Burton, who joined the show as a co-executive producer for season four. She has a long history of writing and producing genre shows, with her last series being (coincidentally) Warrior Nun.
- This is Christopher J. Byrne’s second time directing Discovery; he also directed the season one episode “Into the Forest I Go.”
- Gabrielle explains that J’Vani was acting as a “Qalankhkai,” which we learned in Star Trek: Picard is a nun who has bound herself to a lost cause.
- Michael promises Book she will return his ship “washed and waxed.” Apparently, this is still a thing in the 32nd (or even 23rd) century, but opting for the starship undercarriage wash is still a rip-off.
- Graverobbers looted the Abronian ship because their bodies contain latinum, revealing this commodity still has value in the 32nd century.
- The USS Credence appeared to have four nacelles, an uncommon arrangement seen on some ships like Jean-Luc Picard’s first command, the USS Stargazer.
- Kaminar’s spaceport is being retrofitted for their return to space following post-Burn isolation, something Saru lobbied for as a Councilor in the season opener.
- T’Rina mentions the Vulcan emotion-suppressing discipline of arie’mnu, which comes from the 1983 Star Trek novel The Wounded Sky.
- It’s recommended not to touch Kaminar swamp kelp while it is in bloom—but it’s better if you don’t know why.
- This is the first episode featuring the new bar set, which was first revealed in publicity photos two weeks ago.
- The Disco bar featured a number of nods to Quark’s Bar on Deep Space Nine, like Adira playing darts, a Ferengi officer serving drinks, and a Lurian at one of the tables.
More to come
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