Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The crew fights back as Discovery heads into its endgame

Illustration for article titled The crew fights back as Discovery heads into its endgame
Photo: Michael Gibson/CBS

Okay, I’ve checked multiple times, and I’m pretty sure that this episode is finally the penultimate episode of season three. It’s been a journey, folks, a long, torturous journey made up of assumptions that I didn’t bother to check. But we’re finally here. Only one left to go after this, and, well, that’s maybe for the best.

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Hey, remember Zareh? The raspy voiced creep Jake Weber played back in the second episode—the one who was so mean to Tilly and Saru, and who got sent out into the wilderness to die. Well, he’s back, still raspy as ever, working for Osyraa in her plot to steal Discovery and join forces with the Federation. I like Weber well enough, and while I think I’m all set on scenes of characters either needlessly belittling or excessively praising Tilly, I guess it’s cool that they brought back someone with a history. Zareh seemed a little too distinct to be a one off, and I guess this means we’ll be seeing him die on screen at some point, presumably next episode.

What’s that? You’re curious about Osyraa’s plan to join forces with the Federation? Me too, actually. In one of Discovery’s rare and welcome swerves into actual complexity, “There Is A Tide…” follows the Ephalba-wannabe as she tricks her way into Federation headquarters. After being largely content to paint the character as a one-note villain, “Tide” tries to bring in a bit of nuance; she’s still an ends justify the means kind of person, but at least the actual ends she’s striving towards are more compelling than “sneering and murdering.” She’s not completely honest in her conversation with Vance, but there’s enough truth in what she says (their conversation is monitored by a holographic lie detector) to make for a crisis that is as philosophically knotty as it is exciting.

Another point in the episode’s favor: it keeps its focus on Discovery and the events inside Federation HQ. Given how the show has handled previous multipart storylines, I half-expected us to pause every ten minutes to go see how Saru, Culber, and Adira were getting along. That we don’t is both a benefit to the episode’s pace and to the tension about just what’s happening back on the Planet of Slow Radiation Death. It’s just a smart structural choice, and while I don’t want to overpraise the show for doing something that TV shows have been doing for decades, it does seem like it’s a trick Discovery doesn’t always remember when it matters. So hey, good on them for getting this one right.

As for the plots we do get, well, for the most part it’s people running around trying to rescue each other and managing to be just effective enough to not actually resolve anything. We have Michael playing Die Hard on Discovery while Osyraa settles into negotiations with Admiral Vance, Tilly and the others come up with a plan to fight back, and Stamets has a discussion about motives with a dry voiced scientist in Engineering. Of all of these, it’s the scenes in Engineering that probably drag the most—there are only a couple before Michael shows up and shoots Stamets off the ship (more on that in a sec), but the actor playing the scientist makes a choice to underplay every line, and it doesn’t work at all. Clearly the character is going on an arc where he realizes that Osyraa isn’t all she pretends to be, but given the dry, flat line-readings, it’s hard to get invested in his inner turmoil. I just wanted him to stop talking.

In regards to that whole “Michael throwing Stamets off the ship,” it’s interesting how the show has re-remembered this season that part of what initially defined Michael was her willingness to make big, risky decisions when she decided she knew the right way forward. It’s what basically got the original Georgiou killed back in the pilot, and it’s been popping up from time to time lately; here, it surfaces when she decides that making sure Osyraa can’t use the spore drive is more important than going back to the Planet of Slow Radiation Death and saving Saru and the others. Stamets objects, they fight, and she knocks him out before sealing him in a forcefield and using an exploding phaser to kick him out into space.

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This almost works? Michael is more interesting when she makes big choices, and Stamets’ absolute fury at her betrayal here is more intense than conflicts on the show between two main characters usually get. It’s just, it feels like the writers were in such a hurry to get to this moment that they didn’t quite do the necessary work to justify it. The scene needs for both Michael and Stamets to have a point, but Michael acts like she’s operating on some countdown clock that none of the rest of us are privy to. She doesn’t actually know what Osyraa’s plans are, and while it’s true that it would be bad for the Chain to have full control of the Drive, there’s not enough sense of immediate pressure to make her actions here quite ring true.

On the other hand, Stamets’ completely inability to separate his professional and personal lives is about as good a justification for banning relationships among the crew as one could imagine. Neither of them are acting exactly rationally, and while that’s fine for character drama, something about the way it’s presented here, the sudden shift from “thank you for rescuing me” to “BURN IN HELL,” is too sudden. Maybe if the show had a clearer perspective on Michael’s rogue behavior, maybe if the danger was more immediate, it might’ve clicked. As is, as a scene, it’s effective, but in the context of the episode as a whole, it feels more than a little forced.

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It’s a strange thing, really. “Tide” is just as messy in its way as last week’s episode, but because the overall focus is narrower, it’s a stronger entry. The action scenes are all fun to watch (it’s pretty funny how Michael manages to get herself stabbed in the leg like, a minute after she runs off to save the day), and while Tilly’s shift from “adorkable nerd” to “battle-hardened commander” is a bit much, well, it’s nice to see the crew working as a team. Still, it’s hard to accurately assess all of this without seeing how it ends. “Tide” doesn’t resolve a cliffhanger so much as it extends it, and the final scene, with Tilly and the others meeting up with a bunch of cute robots who are all controlled by the Sphere data is… well, I laughed very loudly, and I don’t think it was supposed to be funny.

Stray observations

  • Seriously, the Sphere data nonsense may be what finally breaks me. I don’t need Trek to be gritty or even particularly realistic, but tipping over into full-on kid movie “science is magic!” nonsense is a step too damn far.
  • I assumed we’d see some self-doubt from Tilly this week, and we do—it’s not a bad little moment—but the speed with which it’s tossed aside is a little discouraging. I don’t know, I don’t think any of this is her fault, but losing a starship to the bad guys on your first time at the helm should at least allow for some basic personal reflection. (God forbid anyone on Discovery ever feel bad about something for more than thirty seconds, I guess.)
  • Michael tells Booker she loves him. This isn’t specifically a Discovery issue, but it’s high time TV shows stopped pretending this was a big deal out of certain specific situations. They’ve been a couple for a little while, they’re obviously close, her saying it now changes nothing but they act like it does.
  • I like how smart Vance is throughout this. And I like the ultimatum he gives Osyraa—that he’ll go along with her proposal to team up the Federation and the Emerald Chain, but only if she’ll willingly stand trial for her crimes. It’s a way to both acknowledge the potential of the arrangement but also stick to the Federation’s ideals.
  • Oh, Ryn gets shot. He’s heroic, and then he gives a speech about how love triumphs over hate, and then Osyraa shoots him.
  • “We came to the future for you!” Stamets’s absolute despair and rage here feels like something the show should’ve addressed before now. It’s surprisingly powerful having someone say it flat out.
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