Warning: This Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 6 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…
Star Trek: Discovery hasn’t devoted a story to the cute floating repair robots ubiquitous in the 32nd century – yet – but their influence is everywhere in "Scavengers". Future Starfleet has given Discovery a major refit, with the ship now decked out with programmable matter interfaces and detached warp nacelles. In fact, everything looks like a futurologist’s dream come true, so it’s ironic that the crew never really get to put their new toys through their paces
Instead, the ship spends the episode on standby, Discovery’s spore drive instantly qualifying it for a role as Starfleet’s rapid response service. While they wait for the call to protect Argeth from Andorian/Orion crime syndicate the Emerald Chain, the crew fill their time getting up to speed with holographic computer interfaces and personal transporters – with the possible exception of Saurian officer Lt Linus, whose inability to beam himself to the right place becomes a fun running gag. These days, however, sitting around twiddling thumbs isn’t really part of Michael Burnham’s skillset, so it’s not long before she’s off breaking the rules and doing her own thing.
The sight of Starfleet being hailed by a feline big enough to exert “its own gravitational pull” feels like an outtake from Red Dwarf, but somehow doesn’t feel out of place here. That’s because the visitor is Discovery’s unlikeliest cult hero, Grudge the Cat, who’s been sent to represent Book in the event of his latest endeavour going wrong.
It turns out Book’s got a lead on one of the starship black boxes that could provide vital intel on how and why the Burn took place, but his quest has landed him in a spot of unspecified bother. Alas, the thought of Book’s Han Solo-esque charisma isn’t quite enough to convince Saru to send Burnham on a rescue mission, so Discovery’s First Officer takes matters into her own hands and goes rogue in Book’s ship. It’s a shame Burnham left her original timeline before the events of The Search For Spock, otherwise she’d know that breaking ranks to save a friend doesn’t always turn out well in Star Trek.
The chain of command’s loss is storytelling’s gain, as Burnham brings along the only person on the ship with a greater gift for insubordination than hers: Philippa Georgiou. It’s still not entirely clear what the former Terran Emperor’s role on board Discovery is – it seemingly consists of wandering around the decks, delivering pointed barbs at anyone she can find – but it’s a good thing she’s there. Along with Tilly – who also gets her share of memorable gags – she stops the atmosphere from getting too serious and stuffy, all the while adding a wonderful element of unpredictable chaos. Of course, Georgiou fully embraces the chance to break the rules – mostly, we suspect, so she can wind up Burnham about her relationship with Book.
If the Burnham/Georgiou double act is what makes the episode tick, their destination helps make this instalment season 3’s best so far. From the orbital ship’s graveyard to the brutal labour camp – anyone else getting vibes of Rura Penthe in Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country? – this feels like a much-needed glimpse of the broken universe the Federation is struggling to fix. Indeed, it’s fairly clear that the warlords in charge – the sort of people who cut off Andorian antennae – aren’t going to rethink their evil ways just because a member of the Discovery crew has paid them a visit.
The prison break is a wonderfully cinematic action sequence, though lines like "Salvage this, you son of a bitch" feel just as out of place as “assimilate this” did in Star Trek: First Contact. The big takeaway, however, is that Georgiou isn’t quite as handy in the fight as you’d expect. She’s being struck down by random flashbacks, that apparently began at Starfleet headquarters in episode 5. She’s clearly recalling something in her Mirror Universe past, but the question is, why is she remembering them now? Surely it has something to do with her interrogator, Kovich (played by David Cronenberg). In fact, we’re wondering if his interest in the Terran Empire goes beyond that of an amateur enthusiast. What if he’s a Terran himself, and he wears those glasses to protect his eyes from the bright lights of our universe?
But despite the fireworks, it’s events back on Discovery that will have the biggest impact on the trajectory of the season. The traditionally prickly Stamets lets his softer side show with Adira, as the pair discover they share a unique bond having seen their partners come back from the dead. He’s also rather grateful she hooks him up with a goop-based interface for the spore drive.
And despite an interruption from the out-of-control Linus – his comic timing his impeccable – Burnham and Book finally kiss in an elevator, acting on the chemistry that’s been obvious from the start. We’re hoping Book sticks around a bit longer this time, because Discovery is much better when he’s on board.
Besides, Burnham may need a distraction now that she’s been demoted from her position as Saru’s Number One as punishment for going AWOL. It’s debatable whether she wanted the role in the first place, but it still shakes things up on the bridge – especially given that she’s unlikely to abandon her obsession with finding out the origin of the Burn. That tug-of-war between her loyalties to Starfleet and Book suggest Discovery really could be going places when it actually gets to engage those detached nacelles.
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.