Warning: This Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 12 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…
It’s rather fitting that, in Christmas week, Star Trek: Discovery should deliver its own tribute to Die Hard. As an injured Michael Burnham hides away in Jefferies Tubes, running around barefoot while evading the bad guys, it’s impossible not to think of John McClane’s famous night in Nakatomi Plaza. In fact, it’s almost disappointing when one of Osyraa’s Emerald Chain soldiers is sucked into space, and doesn’t have “Now I have a phaser, ho-ho-ho” scrawled across her uniform.
There’s a lot more to "There is a Tide…" than simply homaging classic ’80s action movies, however. After the brilliant "Su’Kal" set the ball rolling for a high stakes season 3 finale, this follow-up shifts gears completely, focusing the story on Discovery, where Osyraa is holding the Discovery bridge crew hostage. It’s a tense, gripping siege episode that minimises distractions by keeping the action mostly on the ship. Saru and Dr Culber may remain in extreme peril in the radiation-drenched Verubin Nebula, but their fate will have to wait another week…
For now, Osyraa is the more pressing matter. Having seized Discovery, she sets a course for Federation HQ. Pretending the vessel’s under attack from her own flagship, the Viridian, she manages to make it inside Starfleet’s forcefields – but not before Book and Burnham negotiate a hazardous transwarp tunnel, and make a last-minute crash landing on Discovery that would make even Han Solo proud. Book sends Burnham Die Harding because she’s much more familiar with the ship. “I love you,” she says. He knows…
Meanwhile, Osyraa has decided to show herself – and the Emerald Chain – in a new light. She’s not here to conquer the Federation, she wants to join it, combining the military/financial muscle of the Chain with the Federation’s credibility. Leading negotiations, Admiral Vance does everything he can to pick apart Osyraa’s proposal, but, bizarrely, it all seems sound. Not even holographic lie detector Eli – still adhering to the old Doctor Who mantra that “bow ties are cool” – can spot any deception. It’s refreshingly shades-of-grey territory for Discovery, which has previously portrayed the Chain as an evil empire whose very existence is a threat to galactic harmony. Without brushing the Chain’s numerous atrocities under the carpet, "There is a Tide" posits that the two sides’ differences may be rather more subtle than good vs bad.
While Osyraa is doing her best to go legit in a Starfleet HQ, it seems the memo didn’t get through to her minions on Discovery. With wannabe cowboy Zareh (who crossed paths with Saru and Tilly in "Far From Home") in temporary command, it seems that Osyraa’s edict that the incarcerated bridge crew should remain unharmed will be pushed to its limits. Masked Regulators move to punish any insurrection, while the hunt for Michael “John McClane” Burnham gets particularly nasty. She even makes an emotional plea for help to her mother, Gabrielle, who (as we learned in "Unification III") has joined a Romulan sect on Ni’Var.
The Emerald Chain don’t count on the resourcefulness of Tilly and the rest of the Discovery crew, however, and it’s a fun idea that a 19th-century invention such as Morse code should be enough to outwit the 32nd technological might of the Chain. From there Tilly and co are able to follow the Star Trek: First Contact playbook for retaking a starship, sneaking around and grabbing weapons where they can. Book and Andorian ally Rin stay behind to fight off the Regulators.
Back at Starfleet HQ, negotiations (perhaps inevitably) break down over the important matter of what would happen to Osyraa in the event of a Chain/Federation treaty. Vance insists she should face trial for her many crimes – oppression, enslavement, that sort of thing – but that simply doesn’t fly with Osyraa, who, conveniently, wants to leave the past in the past. She returns to Discovery in a fit of pique.
Diplomacy is officially over when she reverts to her previous modus operandi of threatening people with phasers. Book offers Osyraa information on a new source of dilithium – he’ll even show her the way there – but it’s not enough to save her former employee, Rin, from being vaporised. She also tells the Veridian to end the cease fire and attack the Federation shields.
Arguably the key figure in the episode, however, is its most passive. In fact, you could almost say that Stamets has been ‘promoted’ to McGuffin status. Osyraa has realised he’s the key to making the spore drive tick, and unleashes her best scientist to understand the tardigrade-enhanced DNA that communicates with the mycelial network. Burnham McClane has other ideas, of course, and frees Stamets from his booth. Unfortunately for him, that means securing him in an emergency escape field (rather like the transport bubbles in Galaxy Quest), blasting him into space, and waiting for the Federation to pick him up.
It’s a real “needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” scenario, with Burnham realising that Stamets is too strategically valuable to fall into Osyraa’s hands, forcing Stamets to contemplate losing Culber and Adira in the Verubin Nebula. His impassioned pleas that his entire world is out there are powerful and emotionally raw, particularly when he reminds Burnham that they all followed her to the 32nd century so she wouldn’t be left alone. With the clock ticking for the away team – Culber told Burnham that if they’d been in there a day there’d be no point coming back for them – it looks like the season finale will be a real race against time.
Luckily, the Discovery crew has a new – and very cute – ally. It turns out the DOT droids frequently seen carrying out maintenance on the ship are powered by sphere data, and they do more than simply screen classic comedy movies. Now talking with the voice of Annabelle Wallis (who first voiced Discovery’s computers in the far-future set Short Trek "Calypso", before returning in "Forget Me Not"), they may just shift the balance of power for the final showdown with Osyraa. They even manage a Vulcan salute.
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery season 3 land on Thursdays on CBS All Access in the US, and on Fridays on Netflix in the UK.