Warning: This Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 13 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…
The no-win scenario is sacred in Star Trek. Ever since Spock came up with a heart-breaking solution to the Kobayashi Maru test in The Wrath of Khan, it’s been a recurring theme across the franchise.
It’s no surprise, then, when Discovery’s all-action season 3 finale leans heavily into this classic Trek trope. Unfortunately, "That Hope is You: Part 2" overlooks one crucial part of the equation – it’s not a no-win scenario if everybody wins.
In a clear echo of the legendary James T. Kirk, Michael Burnham tells Emerald Chain leader Osyraa that she doesn’t believe in unwinnable situations – despite all the evidence to the contrary. This three-part denouement has delighted in putting every member of the Discovery crew in harm’s way, whether it’s Saru, Culber, and Adira being trapped on a radiation-soaked planet, Book being mercilessly tortured by the Chain for information, or Tilly leading her small band of bridge officers on a seemingly doomed mission to retake Discovery. Any one of them could have ended the episode being blasted into space in a ceremonial photon torpedo, so the fact that everyone emerges unscathed pushes the limits of plausibility past breaking point. It also suggests the writers have become scared of making the sort of bold storytelling choices that characterised, say, Battlestar Galactica.
That Starfleet comes out on the winning side is almost entirely down to one person: Michael Burnham. Having used her wits to survive and Die Hard her way around Discovery in the previous episode, she shifts into full-on superhero mode here.
Not only is she the smartest person in the room – as Burnham has been since day one, to be fair – she’s now a full-blown action hero. She fights, she wisecracks and makes physics-defying leaps, all while still finding time to send a coded message to Tilly containing instructions on how to disable the ship. Despite a history of insubordination, Burnham’s always been one of Starfleet’s most capable officers, yet here she’s just too good to be true. Perhaps we should have read more into the episode’s title: "That Hope is You, Part 2" is the follow-up to the season premiere, when Burnham made a go of it after landing in the 32nd century all alone.
For all the Discovery crew’s efforts, Burnham’s greatest ally in the episode is deus ex machina. When she’s not taking down Emerald Chain Regulators with the ease of a Jedi slicing through Stormtroopers, she’s being helped by a succession of convenient plot devices that beam in from nowhere. Concerned about the crew suffocating when the Chain turn off their life support? Don’t worry, Lt Owosekun has a previously unseen talent for holding her breath for 10 minutes at a time. And it’s no problem when you think she’s about to be blown up by the warp nacelle she’s just sabotaged, because a Sphere Data-powered DOT droid turns up in the nick of time to play guardian angel.
Even Stamets’ absence is no barrier to using the spore drive, when it’s revealed – out of the blue – that Book’s enhanced empathic abilities give him a direct line to the mycelial network. And the person who drops this bombshell? None other than Aurellio, the genius Emerald Chain scientist who was working for Osyraa barely 10 minutes earlier, yet has now apparently been inducted to the Discovery bridge crew. In Harry Potter, they explain such contrivances away with a magical Room of Requirement. Here, it just feels like the writers’ room backed themselves into a corner they couldn’t get out of.
Even if this isn’t Star Trek’s finest hour in terms of plotting, you can’t fault this season finale for ambition. This has all the scale of a blockbuster movie, whether it’s ship-to-ship combat inside Starfleet HQ, or phaser fights in Discovery’s corridors. Inviting us behind the curtain of Turbolift technology is an ingenious move, a deep cut of Trek lore that just happens to allow for exhilarating chase scenes – it plays out like someone taking a joyride on Willy Wonka’s Great Glass Elevator. My one quibble is that the inside of Discovery seems implausibly large – have they borrowed some tech from the TARDIS since their move to the future?
The episode also shows it hasn’t forgotten its roots when it rolls out some old-school techno-speak. That the Burn, the tragedy that turned the 32nd century into a dystopian Wild West, was caused by a grieving child is a classic Trek twist, and Dr Culber and Adira effortlessly follow in the footsteps of Spock and Data when they work out what’s going on – they talk about polyploids and the resonant frequency of subspace as if they’re the most normal things in the world. Gray also gets to exist in physical form for a while in the holo-simulation – it’ll be intriguing to see if he materialises as a regular crew member in season 4.
To have thoughtful sci-fi like this next to Burnham’s scrap with Osyraa in Discovery’s datacore – is that a nod to Superman 3 when Burnham’s sucked into the machine? – is a very odd, jarring mix, but that’s the episode in a nutshell. There’s so much going on here that it borders on overload. None of the numerous story arcs are granted a truly satisfactory conclusion – we’d have liked to see more interaction with the Sphere Data – and, as happened with the Star Trek: Picard season 1 finale, there seems to be an obsession with tying things up in a neat bow. It’s a letdown at the end of a season that’s frequently (and admirably) tried to expand Trek’s mission parameters – albeit with slightly mixed results.
Still, it’s a happy ending of sorts, with the Federation welcoming new members, dilithium being distributed around the galaxy and, er, stylish new uniforms for the Discovery crew. The only real source of tension is Stamets, who clearly still resents Burnham for not returning to the nebula to save Culber and Adira.
Which could be a problem now that Burnham’s been promoted to captain after Saru’s return to Kaminar. It’s been a long-time coming, and in some ways, it feels like the show’s entire run has been working towards getting Burnham in the big chair. Now she’s there – hopefully she’ll last longer than her predecessors, Lorca, Pike and Saru – she doesn’t need to be a superhero, just the exceptional Starfleet officer we know her to be. Though that “Let’s fly…” catchphrase possibly needs a bit of work – as with nicknames, they rarely land fully formed. Make it so!