Star Trek: Discovery – Season 5 Episode 3

Apr 11, 2024 | Posted by in TV


Star Trek: Discovery takes the crew to Trill in search of the next clue in their quest for the Progenitor technology.

Structurally, this season is, so far, built around assembling pieces of a puzzle that will lead the Discovery crew to the Progenitor technology. This and the previous episode began with Discovery heading to the next stop in their quest where the crew will have an adventure before moving on to find the next clue. This structure is widespread in modern franchise media. Ahsoka spent most of its first season in search of a map that would take them to where the story actually begins. The trouble with this approach is that there can be a strong sense of a show spinning its wheels and padding out the season before quickly racing through the actual plot. Ahsoka was certainly guilty of that and, to its credit, Discovery is currently delivering substantive storytelling that makes these stops appear worthwhile because they are meaningful to those participating in the adventure. The quest forms a loose framework providing an excuse to have a standalone adventure rather than being a stalling tactic designed to disguise the fact that there isn’t enough to the actual plot to fill more than a couple of episodes. If the trajectory of this season continues then the quest is part of the story and will inform how the characters react to what they find at the end of it.


All about the mission

The current stop is Trill which is, of course, meaningful for Adira because they have the opportunity to reconnect with Gray after months apart. It was mentioned in the previous episodes that there is tension between them that Adira doesn’t understand and it’s continued in this episode with Adira’s mention of feeling nervous about seeing him again which means all isn’t right in their relationship; something Reno overtly points out to Stamets who is so fixated on Romulan numbers that he hasn’t noticed. Their conversation is unnecessary bloat as it’s already evident that Adira and Gray are having problems so it doesn’t need to be explicitly pointed out. It would perhaps be forgivable if Stamets were to feed into this story in some way by providing helpful advice to Adira that comes from his lived experience of being in a committed relationship but Adira and Gray deal with it themselves so the Reno/Stamets scene only serves to point out what is already obvious. It’s a waste of screen time for two characters that could be better used.

Adira and Gray’s relationship has never been well defined and hasn’t received enough focus to encourage the audience to be fully invested in it. Adira mentioned the distance causing problems in the previous episodes but beyond that, it hasn’t received much attention since Gray went back to Trill nor was it meaningfully explored when they were together. It’s necessary to address it because their relationship is part of the framework of the show but it’s treated as an afterthought so their mutual and mature decision to break up because they both recognised they are on different and incompatible paths doesn’t land as powerfully as it should. With proper background work, the bittersweet decision to part ways could have been more noteworthy as it’s an example of two young people ending a relationship for mature and thoughtful reasons rather than their separation being angst-driven as TV breakups so often are. They have a measured and practical conversation about where they are in their lives, conclude that their individual goals aren’t compatible with their relationship at this point and then part as friends with no hard feelings. They’re both obviously upset but agree it’s for the best. It’s a noteworthy development but more emotional grounding would have made it more impactful.

The difficulties in making and maintaining connections come up through other characters. The most overt exploration of this is through Rayner as he transitions to the role of Discovery’s First Officer. Burnham orders him to get to know the crew but he would rather focus on accomplishing the mission and sees bonding with the crew as unnecessary which diverts his time from more important tasks. He may see his posting on Discovery as a temporary assignment that will end with his forced early retirement when the mission is complete so doesn’t feel it’s worthwhile getting to know the crew. Burnham believes that the crew is so efficient because they care deeply for one another and clearly wants Rayner to buy into that but he has a different philosophy and struggles to see the value in Burnham’s approach.


Brief resurrections are the best resurrections

This is good for the show as Rayner is an abrasive presence who challenges the crew in different ways. There is a level of comfort among the cast that makes their interactions very dry at times. More conflict and disagreement is needed to facilitate good drama and Rayner is already providing that. He meets with the crew because Burnham orders him to and only obeys the order because Tilly hounds him to do it. This makes for a refreshing shift in the overall dynamic of the show and is a strong introduction for Rayner in that role as it highlights how different he is from the norm.

His meetings with different members of the crew are interesting for several reasons. Perhaps most significantly is that it further highlights how underdeveloped anyone outside the core cast are on this show. It isn’t necessary to have a well-developed pool of secondary characters but Discovery as a show operates as if they have received in that development and the audience is familiar with them when that isn’t even close to being the case. Most of the secondary characters are practically extras with a handful of lines in a given episode at best so having a subplot where a new character gets to know them by asking them to summarise themselves in 20 words or less is unintentionally hilarious as it completely misses the mark.

The idea being promoted is that the crew of Discovery are a family and Rayner is a new addition to that family who must make an effort to connect with them. In reality, Rayner is a more developed character after two appearances than everyone he interacts with in service of this subplot except for Tilly so attention is drawn to how poorly the Discovery writers have characterised the supporting players despite a clear assumption of the crew being tightly knit and familial.


You get a Starbase, and you get a Starbase, everyone gets a Starbase

One thing the subplot does accomplish the task of developing Rayner and starting to form his dynamic with the crew as a whole. As a character, he’s reminiscent of Lorca before the twist that he originated in the Mirror Universe. The promise of Lorca prior to the reveal was that he was a Captain suited to being at War and would perhaps struggle to function under more peaceful circumstances. Rayner isn’t quite a leader who thrives in times of conflict, but his abrasive attitude conjures up memories of Lorca when he was playing the part. As mentioned above, he’s focused on the mission and sees bonding with the crew as a waste of time so his approach to Burnham’s assignment is to carry out his orders in the most efficient way possible.

This is likely the reason for the quick meetings and the demand that they define themselves in 20 words or less. Towards the end of the episode, he demonstrates that he was paying attention by sharing his analysis of those he met with Tilly. This furthers his previously depicted ability to quickly examine what he is presented with and extract what he feels is important before taking the next step. All of his conclusions about them were positive so it shows he recognises their value as officers. Tilly counters this by pointing out that analysing them isn’t the same as connecting with them and Rayner details his view that professional distance is important in a leadership role. He states “Leadership and friendship are two different beasts. Professional distance keeps the distinction clear”. It’s a valid perspective that isn’t explored on this show to any great extent.

Unfortunately, this debate seems to be heading in a very uninteresting direction. Tilly extols the virtues of making strong connections with the crew and Rayner looks on almost longingly as Tilly enjoys a drink with members of the crew. The prevailing reading is that Rayner is beginning to see Tilly’s point and even craves the kind of connection that she’s talking about so the probable direction is that Rayner will fully assimilate into the crew and fully endorse the notion of the crew being his family. If this is the case then that will be less interesting than having a character who maintains a professional distance and continues to challenge them. It’s still possible that time will be spent detailing Rayner having a command style that the crew aren’t comfortable with and reasserting the notion of Starfleet being a hierarchy where people are expected to follow orders from superiors regardless of how they feel about them. Rayner can and should be that character.


A brisk walk makes you feel alive!

Tilly countering his statement about respect having to be earned with a reminder that it works both ways supports the idea of Rayner coming around to her way of thinking. At no point is it suggested that Rayner isn’t aware that he will have to earn the respect of the crew so it’s a redundant point for Tilly to make. Rayner is trying to tell her that he doesn’t know them and they all have to prove themselves to him. It has been established that he has 30 years of command experience so he will also be aware that he will need to earn the crew’s respect but that doesn’t mean his orders can be ignored even if they don’t respect him. Rayner isn’t the sort of commander that the crew are used to and they will have to adapt because his rank and position mean that they have to follow his orders. There is, of course, no guarantee that he will be good at his job but he is their superior and they have to be conscious of that. It’s troubling that the show seems to be heading in the direction of Rayner shifting to accommodate the Discovery crew rather than making use of the opportunity to challenge their complacency. It’s perhaps foolish to expect such a shift in the show’s fifth season but squandered opportunities are always frustrating.

Another shift to the norm is Saru beginning his new diplomatic position and preparing for his future with T’Rina. I mentioned in my review of the previous episodes that this role shift is long overdue and this episode further supports that thesis. Saru in a diplomatic position naturally allows the background details of the universe to be fleshed out with Saru acting as the point of view character. With this being the final season and a shortened one at that, there likely isn’t time to add much in the way of depth to the 32nd century, particularly when the main plot of the season will doubtlessly take over before long but Saru is certainly involved in stories the show hasn’t told before so the scope of the show is widened because Saru’s plot currently has nothing to do with what the Discovery crew are doing.

Conceptually it’s a great idea to put Saru in a position that forces the writers to explain the political machinations of the 32nd century to add scope to the universe the show inhabits but the execution is mixed. Much of the storytelling is filtered through Saru and T’Rina’s relationship with constant reference to how the decisions that affect the galaxy also affect their relationship. This is more of a feature than a bug as Discovery has always been an emotionally driven show where the feelings of the characters are always a greater priority than anything else. Leaning into this works well in this instance because it highlights how heavily everything is scrutinised when in a position of political authority, including and perhaps especially personal relationships. Even though there is exploration of the background elements and mention of political issues affecting the Federation, the heart of this plot is Saru and T’Rina figuring out how to balance their professional and romantic relationship.


Does anyone in this room want to be here?

T’Rina’s associate, Duvin (Victor Andrés Trelles Turgeon) urges Saru to reconsider publicly announcing his engagement to T’Rina because of how politically controversial it will be. He is concerned that T’Rina’s credibility will be called into question and her work invalidated as a result. Another concern is that T’Rina’s ability to see the controversy is clouded by her feelings for him which is why Duvin engages Saru instead of her. He gets inside Saru’s head and he considers his engagement to T’Rina in a political context which prompts him to suggest postponing the announcement until a less sensitive time. The words being said by Saru are blatantly not his own and Duvin’s interference creates a brief rift in their relationship that is resolved when Saru realises that he doesn’t actually believe what he said. T’Rina points out that the announcement is itself a political move as it’s an act of transparency. If their engagement was concealed and it was outed before an official announcement then that would undermine T’Rina’s credibility as she would be viewed as dishonest. It’s a neat merging of the professional and personal as her public commitment to Saru shows that she has nothing to hide and acts as a statement of how committed she is to him.

Mechanically all of this works but it’s also resolved far too quickly. It’s difficult to accept there are tangible stakes because all of this takes place over the course of three conversations so there’s no sense of the wider impact of decisions made beyond a few lines of dialogue. Taking time to show the actual impact of decisions would highlight how difficult finding a balance is when in the political arena. This would require playing out Saru and T’Rina’s rift over a longer period of time but there would be the possibility of it having more depth than it does here.

Similarly, the episode is light on the exploration of the background details that make up the universe. The only negotiation featured is at the end of the process and the solution comes across as an easy one. This may be valid but the actual debate leading to the solution wasn’t shown so there was very little visibility of the actual issue at play. The episode pays lip service to the debate and only delivers a surface-level account of the issue which is a fraction of its potential. It should be possible to widen the scope of the universe and deliver political complexity filtered through the perspective of central characters and their relationships but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.


We need to talk!

The main plot of the season is furthered through Discovery’s visit to Trill in search of the next clue. Obtaining this involves asking the long-dead host of a Sybmiont which is fortunately possible as the memories of former hosts can be placed in a living body. Culber volunteers to be inhabited by Jinaal who offers to lead them to the clue on his own terms. He isn’t concerned about the urgency of the quest as he wants to take some time to enjoy being alive again so only agrees to show them if they’ll indulge his desire to enjoy a nice long walk.

As they walk, Jinaal explains how he gained the knowledge he possesses. He talks about being part of a team dedicated to studying the Progenitors that actually found the technology. Burnham points out that he could just tell her where it is and skip to the end of this quest but Jinaal refuses because he and his colleagues designed a quest to test the worthiness of those who seek the technology. He is haunted by a loss he suffered when attempting to activate the technology so has first-hand experience of its destructive potential and only wants it to be wielded by the “right hands”. They made the discovery during the Dominion War and made the decision to hide the location because they didn’t trust anyone to respect the power at their disposal and use it properly.

It’s unclear how an elaborate fetch quest proves that whoever completes it is worthy to use the technology but Jinaal’s moral stance is clear. He wants the technology to be wielded by those who would use it responsibly in a time of peace. Burnham is practical and honest about how things currently are. stating that they are currently at peace but it’s fragile and may not last but she firmly believes that the good outweighs the bad. “Advancement isn’t linear” is a very powerful point that summarises the complexity of shifting perspectives. Steps forward and backwards are common as civilisation develops; this is something routinely seen in our world and it’s a valid challenge to Jinaal’s simplistic outlook on how morality progresses over time. His blindness to this is notable as he specifically references how the Dominion War changed people’s perspectives on those around them. He does ultimately concede Burnham’s point so it isn’t that he can’t be challenged but the execution is muddled.


Finding balance is difficult

Burnham also calls Jinaal out by highlighting that he could have destroyed the technology and didn’t. Her conclusion is that he must believe in the potential of sentient beings to do good otherwise he would have removed the possibility of the technology ever being used. He is impressed by her conclusion and admits that he is an eternal optimist who understands the reality of morality being less than ideal even if the writing is inconsistent.

Jinaal is an interesting character and placing him as a moral barometer amid this ongoing quest brings the debate about the use of this technology to the fore. It calls back to the debate about the use of the Genesis device in The Wrath of Khan. In that movie, it was mentioned that technology designed to create life could be a weapon of mass destruction in the wrong hands. The obvious and compelling counter to that assertion is questioning whose hands are the right ones or indeed if the “right hands” even exist. This show hasn’t got to that part of the debate yet but there’s considerable discussion about what this technology could do in the right hands. Stamets in particular is very excited about the possibilities because he recognises it could bring about immeasurable positive change.

The worthiness angle from Jinaal’s perspective is thought-provoking but there are also too many unanswered questions. It’s simply accepted that Jinaal is the righteous voice in this scenario even though the episode does little to justify why he can set the standard. He’s characterised as something of a wise old sage who has all the answers and others have to prove themselves worthy in his eyes. Perhaps flashbacks to punctuate Jinaal’s points would have enhanced his credibility rather than unquestionably accepting that he gets to define worthiness. There’s little nuance to the character as he’s a collection of ideals and principles to make him a paragon of virtue in a morally dubious universe.


Someone needs to learn a lesson here and it isn’t going to be me!

He’s certainly compassionate and has very defined ideas about the importance of recognising alternate perspectives. He stages a test for Burnham and Book that the can only pass by making the effort to connect to life forms that are vastly different from their own. At first, they assume the creatures attacking them are inherently hostile but once it’s understood they are only protecting their eggs the weapons are put away and the hostility stops. It’s an obvious solution that probably should have occurred to Burnham and Book earlier but it does make the point that life is infinitely diverse and it’s important to recognise that. Respect for all kinds of life is seen as one element of the worthiness. Burnham and Book pass his test and he gives them the next clue before being returned to his body so they are seen as morally upright by his standards. All of this was strangely handled as the script simultaneously dismisses the complexity of the issues at play while insisting that they are complex. There’s certainly merit here but it gets buried because it isn’t handled in a sophisticated way.

The aftermath of the Jinaal experience sparks an interesting debate that deserves to receive continued attention. Culber has made periodic reference to his Abuela’s faith and he reflects on this after being inhabited by Jinaal while considering the quest they are on. They discuss the notion of faith in opposition to science and whether it’s possible to find harmony between the two. Culber’s Abuela believed that not everything should have an answer and he spent most of his life disagreeing with that sentiment but has started to rethink this in the context of the current quest. This season of Discovery is basically about the search for God and Culber is wondering if it’s right to complete that search as the technology at the end of this quest may be better left hidden. His mind has been opened to his Abuela’s perspective as he is beginning to understand what she meant by not needing an answer to every question. Hopefully, Culber will continue to wrestle with this as his return from death adds an interesting avenue to his soul-searching.


So that was a day, huh?

On a meta-level, this suggests a lack of self-awareness on the part of the writers. This applies to all of modern Star Trek as there is a fixation on picking up threads from previous shows and continuing them. This season uses The Next Generation episode “The Chase” as the basis of the main plot and the clear intent is to answer the questions that were prompted by that episode. There are many discussion points that fandoms have debated for decades that have since been answered in underwhelming ways. Prometheus answered the origin of the once mysterious “Space Jockey” seen in Alien which closed off the fun speculative discussions that would happen between fans. Star Trek: Enterprise did a two-part story explaining why Klingons in The Original series didn’t have forehead ridges which also ended decades of fun fan speculation with a less-than-engaging answer. When it comes to enduring mysteries, the answer is rarely -if ever- a satisfying one so in most cases the mysteries are better left unanswered because the speculation is far more engaging for fans.

The characters may reach a point where they actively reject finding the answers and shift their focus to ensuring that the technology is destroyed so that nobody can ever use it. This would be radical and unexpected but also in keeping with some of what this episode is getting at. The “right hands” debate will likely continue in the coming episodes so one possible conclusion is there are no “right hands”. In many ways, it’s the most satisfying possible ending to this quest.

As Saru’s plot is filtered through his perspective, the beginnings of the season plot being filtered through characterisation can be found here. Burnham is searching for meaning and seems humbled by the prospect of connecting with the closest thing to God she is likely to find. General theme of searching for understanding and choosing to connect both with others and ourselves threads through most of the characters. Rayner refuses to connect to the crew, Burnham and Book are finding it difficult to reconnect after time apart, Adira and Gray failed to properly connect in a long-distance relationship, Saru and T’Rina are working to manage their redefined connection. There are success stories such as the crew of Discovery being a family -even if this is barely shown- and Stamets/Culber having a healthy committed relationship but there’s a general sense of pieces being missing for many of the characters. The end of this quest is touted as a possible solution to this absence though could it be a misguided assumption when actual answers are lacking? Time may tell!


Experience points gained. What’s our next quest?


An interesting if flawed episode that buries some of its merit under unsophisticated exploration of what is presented but does encourage consideration of a variety of ideas.

  • 6/10
    "Jinaal" - 6/10


Kneel Before…

  • Adira and Gray’s decision to break-up being refreshingly angst free
  • Rayner being a much needed abrasive presence who challenges the crew in interesting ways
  • furthering Rayner’s skill at examining what he’s presented with and extracting what he feels is important
  • Saru’s new position allowing for background details to be explored that widen the scope of the universe
  • creating compelling personal problems as his relationship with T’Rina conflicts with their professional responsibilities
  • Jinaal being an engaging character placed as a moral barometer allowing for various debates to be raises
  • Burnham calling him out on his statements and highlighting that advancement isn’t a linear process
  • the beginnings of questioning who would be the “right hands” to wield the technology
  • Culber considering faith in relation to science and having his perspective widened following recent experiences
  • the themes of searching for understanding and choosing to connect with ourselves and others threading through many of the characters


Rise Against…

  • the impact of Adira and Gray’s relationship ending being lessened by the general poor development of it before this episode
  • a strong suggestion that Rayner will be the one to change to conform to the Discovery crew’s way of thinking rather than recognising the validity of his approach
  • his meetings with the crew further highlighting how poorly developed the supporting characters are
  • Saru and T’Rina’s conflict being resolved too quickly
  • very light exploration of the background elements fleshing out the universe
  • failing to properly justify why Jinaal is the moral barometer
  • Burnham and Book being unrealistically challenged by Jinaal’s obvious test
  • Simultaneously dismissing the complexity of the issues at play while insisting that they are complex


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