But now here we are, and Burnham and the Discovery have landed in the 32nd century, far from Klingon wars, Red Angels, Captain Pike, and any other Kirk-era distraction. The show now, finally, is on its own and positioned to expand the Trek world in a totally new way.
After a brief tease involving a lonely Starfleet type “searching for signals,” apparently to no avail, the season premiere kick off essentially where Season 2 ended, with Burnham blasting through the other end of the wormhole she created and landing in the year 3188. It’s almost a thousand years from where she originated, but this time period still has roguish, heart-of-gold space pirates, including new series regular David Ajala as Cleveland “Book” Booker. Burnham, in her Red Angel spacesuit, immediately collides with Book’s ship and the two go plummeting to the planet below in a crackerjack action sequence that requires Burnham to do that most fearsome of things… reboot her computer. Terrifying.
The first two episodes of the season were shot on location in Iceland, and the alien landscapes on display here bring the expected, and expensive, high level of production that Discovery has made a mainstay for modern Star Trek. Also expected is Sonequa Martin-Green’s one-thousand-percent approach to playing Burnham, which reaches one of several peaks in this episode when the character confirms with her suit’s computer that her mission from last season — and the reason she wound up in the future — was successful and that, yes, she and her comrades did save all life in the galaxy. Her screams of joy (and subsequently, grief at what she has lost) effectively sell what is, after all, a plot point from mid-2019.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 3 – Exclusive Character Images
Unfortunately, the episode loses steam once Burnham and Ajala’s characters meet one another on the ground of this barren world and are forced to go to a nearby alien city-bazaar of sorts that feels better suited to a Syfy Channel also-ran than it does the rest of this hour.
The episode drags during these scenes. For one thing, the setting doesn’t feel particularly revelatory despite this being our introduction to life in the 32nd century. In fact, with its floating holograms and neon-signs, the place could just as easily have been one of the worlds visited in Star Trek: Picard earlier this year. And the tech doesn’t seem all that advanced, like the big guns that form around the bad guys’ hands like glowing vacuum cleaners. Give me a phaser any day of the week. Still, we do get a fun bit with Burnham during this stretch where she’s been drugged and acting very un-Burnham-like (and yet also somehow very Burnham-like).
Martin-Green and Ajala have good chemistry, but amid all their running around what’s really at stake for Burnham, and the season’s arc, emerges. The Federation and Starfleet are essentially kaput.
“You believe in ghosts,” Book tells Burnham. “That badge on your shirt. Sometimes you see a guy with one of those badges getting himself all worked up about the Federation, the old days. The true believers. They can’t handle that it’s gone.”
You see, a catastrophic event took place about a century earlier — no one seems to really know the specifics — called The Burn, in which a huge swath of Starfleet was wiped out in an instant when the chief fuel source used in starships, dilithium, exploded simultaneously, apparently everywhere. Starfleet and the Federation were crippled by the mysterious event and eventually fell apart.
And so Burnham, and the missing in action (for now) Discovery crew, have a new mission: Restore and rebuild the Federation — or at least maintain through their actions the ideals of the organization that they devoted their lives to.
That Book turns out to secretly be rescuing endangered alien species (see, heart of gold) only serves to make Burnham’s collision with him more fateful. With the Federation essentially wiped out by what could perhaps have been an over-reliance on a fuel source (we of course don’t yet know the full story here), and with Burnham’s new partner turning out to in fact be a conservationist, this season seems to be squarely aimed at the here and now of 2020, where our very own planet is burning and where, for many, the bright shiny future that many have hoped for seems further away than it has been in a long, long time. Star Trek: Discovery has positioned itself in Season 3 as a thinly veiled analogue for our own state of being, with Burnham and her crew now charged with not just saving the day, but also saving the very idea of Star Trek itself. Disco has finally found its calling.Questions and Notes from the Q Continuum:
- The new tech seen in the marketplace on the planet wasn’t too impressive, but Book’s ship is pretty cool with its every-morphing control panels. Ditto the forever-waiting Starfleet figure, who even brushes his teeth with a laser or something!
- Book’s cat Grudge has a thyroid condition, but she’s a queen. (Is she an endangered species too?)
- “I have a friend with red hair-you-cannot-give-her-any!”
- The Gorn destroyed two light years of subspace?! What’s up with that?
- All time travel tech was destroyed after… the Temporal Wars? Quick, cue up Star Trek: Enterprise!
- And hey, where the heck is the Discovery anyway? And how long will Burnham have to wait for them to emerge from the wormhole…?