Warning: This Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 2 review contains major spoilers – many of them set to stun. Boldly go further at your own risk…
There was a time when Star Wars and Star Trek occupied very different regions of the cosmos. Star Wars was all about adventure and excitement, the magic-tinged fantasy set against the backdrop of a gritty, dirty universe. Star Trek, meanwhile, was more concerned with the science part of the science fiction equation, preoccupied with showing us the heights the human race may one day aspire to reach.
When J.J. Abrams – always a bigger fan of galaxies far, far away than final frontiers – got his hands on Gene Roddenberry’s creation, one of his most notable contributions was to Star Wars-up the Federation. In his first, brilliant Star Trek movie, flawed heroes and magnificent spectacle were the order of the day – along with a healthy disregard for the laws of physics.
Now Star Trek: Discovery – under the command of Alex Kurtzman, co-writer of the two Abrams Treks – is pursuing a similar course. In fact, with a Federation starship crashlanding on a world that feels like an Outer Rim planet from Star Wars, "Far From Home" might be the closest thing to a Trek/Wars crossover we’re ever going to see.
After the season premiere focused entirely on Michael Burnham, the follow-up reveals what’s happened to the rest of the Discovery crew since they arrived in the 32nd century. It’s something of a bumpy landing, with a huge power-out causing the ship to join the pantheon of great Star Trek crash sequences. Their destination planet also proves an intriguing introduction to their new time period, a barren world peppered with habitable regions that couldn’t be anything but artificial – technologically advanced, yet light-years from the utopian ideals that are traditionally the hallmarks of the franchise.
For their first away mission in a new time, Acting Captain Saru and Ensign Tilly – “A wonderful first impression,” according to her commanding officer – find themselves in an echo of the Mos Eisley Cantina. The miners they encounter are living on the edges of the universe, struggling to scrape by, while one of their number dares to hope that the Federation – or what remains of it – might one day come to their aid.
The biggest problem in their lives is a character straight from The Walking Dead. Zareh is like a futuristic cross between Negan and an Old West gunslinger, the clinking spurs on his boots an unsubtle nod to the character’s inspirations. Like Book in the season premiere, he’s a Courier delivering the resources people can’t “make or grow”. Unlike Book, he’s out to extort anyone he perceives to be lower in the food chain. Inevitably, getting his hands on Discovery – whose healthy supplies of dilithium make it a very valuable antique in the post-Burn future – is right at the top of his agenda.
Zareh doesn’t count on meeting an adversary as ruthless as Philippa Georgiou, however. While he’s got the measure of Saru, Tilly and the miners – his penchant for phaser-based torture is straight out of the Negan playbook – he can’t deal with an opponent who doesn’t play by the rules. Indeed, this episode suggests that the Mirror Universe version of Burnham’s former captain could be season 3’s most valuable player. Unconstrained by the niceties of the Prime Directive, that mean streak may be just what the crew needs in the lawless, post-Federation landscape of the 32nd century. She also hogs the lion’s share of the best dialogue. “A fancy vocabulary doesn’t mean you’re scary,” she tells Zareh. “It means you have a thesaurus.”
If the previous episode suffered for keeping the Disco crew out of the way, "Far From Home" makes the most of the interplay between the characters. As with all iterations of Trek, Discovery works best as an ensemble piece, and it’s great to see the team back in action, whether it’s the withering sarcasm of Engineer Jett Reno, or some tender moments between Dr Culber and his critically injured partner, Lt Cmdr Stamets. The episode also sets up a tantalising mystery surrounding the ship’s helmsman, Lt Detmer. Why has she been acting so strangely since they arrived in the future? Could her cybernetic implants be a clue? Has she been possessed by the remains of Control, as the late Lt. Cmdr Airiam was in season 2?
There are also some major missteps. Stamets spending most of the running time stuffed inside a Jefferies tube – even though he was in a coma hours earlier – is utterly preposterous, and feels like an excuse to crowbar an important character into a B-plot. Many of the key plotlines are resolved way too easily, whether it’s Stamets completing a miracle repair, Saru and Tilly obtaining the key component they need, or Discovery escaping from the planet’s surface.
The parasitic ice that threatens to crush the ship’s hull once night falls is a brilliant Star Trek idea, and you expect the ship’s escape to require a suitably ingenious plan of action. Michael Burnham showing up in the nick of time to rescue her shipmates – one year after she landed in the future – is as implausibly convenient as it is emotionally satisfying. Turns out deus ex machina is alive and well in the distant future.