Star Trek: Discovery – Season 5 Episode 7

May 9, 2024 | Posted by in TV


Star Trek: Discovery deals with a tense political situation when the Breen demand the recently captured Moll and L’ak be turned over to them.

Tense political situations with particular individuals at their centre are nothing new for Star Trek. Many stories involve a major power demanding some important figure be returned to them as the characters try to navigate a situation where the wrong decision will lead to War. Discovery set up this inevitable tension when it was established in “Mirrors” that L’ak is descended from Breen royalty and this episode brings it to a head.


There’s nowhere to run!

I’ve previously criticised this show for its failures in worldbuilding. The 32nd century is far from as developed as it could be with political tensions constantly appearing and disappearing. There’s no sense of how the Star Trek universe of this era functions. The same could be said about The Next Generation but, more often than not, details built on what had already been established to deliver what appeared to be a cohesive fragile relationship with powers like the Romulans or the Cardassians. It’s remarkable that an episodic show managed to achieve light serialisation by showing these things evolve over time and fit neatly into the stories that were being told Deep Space Nine would later build on this and expand in ways more suited to a more serialised show.

Discovery has always sold itself as a serialised show but it has always lacked in building out the world beyond the bulkheads off the ship. This has become more evident in the 32nd century with different powers being mentioned right before they are about to become important. The Emerald Chain in season 3 was implied to be a small group of rogues causing trouble in backwater systems until it was decided they were a major power on par with the -at the time- massively diminished Federation. This season, the Breen are suddenly a major player in the galaxy. The approach comes across as haphazard as there is clearly limited interest in background lore being created to paint a picture of the state of the galaxy. Not that time should be spent on an elaborate PowerPoint presentation explaining what powers are important and how much real estate they own but context could be delivered in different ways.

Regardless, the Breen have emerged as the big bad of the season and they make their presence known to the Federation in this episode. The news of Moll and L’ak’s capture has made its way to them and they threaten violence if they aren’t turned over. Moll and L’ak have an “Erigah” against them, which is a particularly nasty Breen Blood Bounty that they will stop at nothing to complete. The crew of Discovery and, by extension, the rest of the Federation have to consider their next move carefully as failure to hand over their prisoners will start a War. The episode doesn’t quite explain why the Federation has such a vested interest in keeping the two prisoners as the pertinent facts become known later. There is Book’s personal connection to Moll but that doesn’t work as reasoning to risk War.


That’s a big ship!

The situation is undeniably tense as the Federation now finds itself in the middle of a Breen civil war. T’Rina is on hand to speak for the Federation in any negotiations that take place and is very clear on her need for information as they are severely lacking at first and need as much as possible if this situation is to be weathered. Burnham learns from L’ak that he’s part of the bloodline and having him will legitimise a claim to the throne. Surprisingly, the Prime Directive isn’t mentioned here despite it being pertinent. Arguably, not turning L’ak over makes the Federation complicit in prolonging a Breen civil war and perhaps makes them part of it. There are ethical considerations at play as turning Moll and L’ak over to the Breen may be condemning them to death. L’ak describes it as being worse than death so Burnham, Vance and T’Rina have to consider their conscience in arriving at a decision on this matter.

Of course, The Breen threaten to start shooting if their demands aren’t met and impose a very tight timeline with their ultimatum. This creates a strong sense of urgency as the clock quickly ticks down and there’s no idea how best to proceed. Rayner ends up being instrumental in giving Burnham an idea but he doesn’t go about expressing himself in the most professional way. There has been an ongoing sense of frustration associated with Rayner since his introduction; he lost his command and was demoted to first officer of another ship due to Burnham giving him a second chance so it’s likely he doesn’t feel in control of his life and is acting out as a result.

There’s an element of that prompting his behaviour at the meeting but it also comes from a deeper traumatic place. He expresses strong anti-Breen opinions that are defined by T’Rina as xenophobia but Rayner insists it’s a realistic conclusion based on bitter experience. Burnham gets him to open up about what caused the outburst and Rayner once again realises that he crossed a line and apologises for doing so. He is still working on suppressing his impulses and adjusting to not being a Captain making autonomous decisions on the fringes of the Federation. There is a game that has to be played and more measured ways of expressing a difference of opinion.


Listen to me because I have a bigger head!

Rayner joins the endless list of characters with a tragic backstory. He talks about the Breen invading his planet and using it as an outpost while brutalising his people. He’s a survivor because he was ruthless and did whatever it took to survive which garnered him a degree of respect from the occupying force. It’s a well-delivered account of a horrifying situation. Callum Keith Rennie’s performance brilliantly shows cracks in Rayner’s armour as he is more vulnerable than he typically is without completely shattering his gruff exterior. He’s letting Burnham in but only so far as completely shedding his defences is unthinkable.

As a result of Rayner’s experience, he has an understanding of how the Breen work and think that nobody else has and can articulate that in a way that helps the situation. His advice is to convince the Breen that they can supply something they want. Without that, they won’t be interested in talking and a conflict is inevitable. It’s enough to give Burnham an idea which means something good may come of Rayner’s suffering and the atrocities committed against his people.

Burnham and T’Rina get the Breen to listen by threatening to turn L’ak over to a rival Primarch that they have been in contact with. It’s a bluff but the hope is that it will make the Breen back down out of fear of a rival faction gaining power. It works but the Breen double down on their desire to have L’ak turned over to them by offering to make a better deal with the Federation to secure an exchange. T’Rina offers to keep Moll and L’ak rather than turn them over to any Breen faction which preserves the current status quo for better or worse. Burnham appeals to the Primarch’s vanity by challenging his ability to defeat his rival which prompts the Primarch to back down but not without a parting threat to show that his acceptance is reluctant.


Bring as many people as you like!

This fragile agreement falls apart almost immediately when L’ak injects himself with a lethal dose of medication and is unable to be saved by Breen medics. His death is a moving scene performed brilliantly with Elias Toufexis and Eve Harlow. They have never failed to sell how much they love each other and this is used to great effect in their final moments together where they reiterate their commitment to one another as well as their desire to live a life free of pursuit. There are some strong visual touches during this exchange such as seeing through L’ak’s eyes as his vision blurs and fades. It’s very effective and reaffirms the emotional stakes of the situation by leaving Moll alone and scrambling to figure out where she fits in the universe without L’ak.

It seems that War is inevitable following this but the situation quickly changes when Moll reveals to the Primarch that she and L’ak are married. This gives her some bargaining power with the Breen and she offers them information about the Progenitor technology in exchange for her survival. It’s a risky move but she grapples onto the slim chance of freedom as opposed to the certainty of incarceration in Federation custody.

Another motivating factor is the potential to bring L’ak back from the dead using the Progenitor technology. It’s far from certain but Moll is used to taking risks and running on hope so it’s easy to understand that it would seem like the best move to make. She is in a deep state of grief and acts in a way that she sees as most likely to reduce that grief.


This could have gone better!

This puts the Federation in a difficult position once again as the only way to avoid a conflict with the Breen is to turn Moll over to them. It’s something she undeniably wants but she is also grieving and may not be thinking rationally. Book points out that giving her to the Breen is wrong but there are so many things to consider with Moll’s wellbeing being but one of them. Discovery has always been an emotionally driven show and Book representing that position organically acknowledges it in the broader political context of what has been presented.

One problem is that no matter their decision, they are now in a race with the Breen to find the Progenitor technology as they now know about it and will likely prioritise laying claim to it before the Federation can. They can stop the Breen attacking if they hand Moll over and they have the advantage for now as they are working on solving the current clue to find the next one. The Breen have none of this so will only be able to follow them to the destination.

Moll’s move further reinforces how resourceful she and L’ak are. L’ak’s tactic to allow Moll to escape was a risk that ultimately didn’t pay off for him but it shows they are capable of figuring out a way out of a situation when the odds are stacked against them. Moll doesn’t get far because she is dealing with competent opponents who restrict her avenues of escape but the most notable thing is that she isn’t brought in forcefully. Book appeals to her on an emotional level as someone who knows what it’s like to lose his world. He understands that L’ak is her world and encourages her to be present at the end of his life because she’ll never forgive herself if she denies herself the chance to say goodbye. It works because her love for L’ak is so strong that she is able to truly hear Book’s words.


Unclench now!

Scenes like this show the potential that exists to create a compelling connection between Book and Moll. It has been periodically mentioned that she is the daughter of his mentor but very little has been done with that and most of the interactions prove that there are other ways to create a connection between them. Book is a natural empath and a former Courier so he already has more than enough inroads to connect with her without the -as it turns out- perfunctory familial connection.

Their conversation serves as a reminder of Book’s genuine desire to help her which informs his position in the debate that soon follows. T’Rina plainly points out that there’s nothing to be lost by turning her over and much to be lost by keeping her so the best outcome for most people is to hand her over to the Breen. Book’s emphatic “This is wrong, Michael!” before leaving is a powerful moment that underscores the emotional impact of this decision and perhaps suggests further damage done to Book and Burnham’s relationship. The episode does an excellent job balancing the emotional and the political aspects and treats a difficult situation with maturity. It’s a very Star Trek style complicated situation that neatly adds Discovery‘s commitment to emotionally driven storytelling in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the politics.

The secondary plot of the episode where various characters work to solve the current clue is far less effective. It comes across as little more than busy work with no interesting or clever developments. Reno being an expert in ancient texts is a ridiculous contrivance that only serves to contribute a number of unengaging conversations about the movement of cultural artefacts. Her description of the various ventures she attempted before settling on Starfleet is amusing but there’s little of value to be found in the meandering puzzle-solving. These scenes drag down the rest of the episode as they hamper the urgency to be found in the main plot. The result is predictably a destination to find the final clue on this quest. It may be the plot of the season but in the context of this episode, it’s less urgent and seems less important than the Breen situation, despite Stamets insistence to the contrary. The ongoing story is hampering the episodes because it is taking so long to reach the point of finding the Progenitor technology.


Our next stop


An engaging episode that neatly weaves Discovery‘s emotionally driven storytelling into a classic Star Trek tense political situation with maturity in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the politics.

  • 7/10
    "Erigah" - 7/10


Kneel Before…

  • a tense and complicated political situation handled with maturity
  • a strong sense of urgency created by the Breen demands and the ticking clock
  • Callum Keith Rennie’s performance when detailing Rayner’s tragic backstory
  • Rayner’s account providing what is needed to deal with the Breen
  • Elias Tofexis and Eve Harlow’s performance in L’ak’s death scene
  • Moll’s grief-driven decision to grasp at the best chance for freedom and the consequences that creates
  • the debate about turning Moll over and Book representing the emotional angle
  • Book appealing to Moll to not miss the opportunity to say goodbye to L’ak
  • further reinforcing how resourceful Moll and L’ak are


Rise Against…

  • another tragic backstory to add to the list
  • the clue-solving plot being little more than busy work


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User Review
8/10 (1 vote)

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