Star Trek: Discovery – Season 3 Episode 3
“People of Earth”
Star Trek: Discovery begins a more detailed exploration of the future with a visit to Earth to see what has become of it in this time period.
After two episodes of table setting it is really refreshing to see some forward momentum on the storytelling. There are still lingering threads of setup that need to be dealt with such as Burnham reacclimating to being among the Discovery crew and what caused “The Burn” but for the most part this episode is focused on showing what form this season will take.
In terms of storytelling it looks like this season will be more episodic than the previous two with each episode taking the crew on an adventure that resolves itself within the confines of an episode. It’s something that worked for Star Trek for a long time so there’s no reason it can’t work here. There are still serialised elements around the characters and ongoing background plots but for the most part a contained story is told that resolves itself within the running time.
The early part of the episode deals with the aftermath of Burnham and the Discovery crew reuniting while catching the audience up on her year without them in a quick flashback montage that explains she became a courier to try and learn what caused “The Burn” and generally find a place within this time period. Her log entry points out that she had to get used to the idea that she may never see the crew again and had to move on with her life on that basis. This creates an interesting arc for Burnham as it is clear that she accepted this and found a role for herself. The arrival of Discovery is welcomed as shown by how deliriously happy she is to see everyone again but there is a distance between her and the others created by the fact that she spent so long away from them under the assumption that she’ll never see them again. It’s notable that her existence isn’t a miserable one; she refers to the future as a “strange, terrible, beautiful dream” which echoes her “waking from a nightmare” statement about the mirror universe back in the first season. The connection is worthy of comment because there’s an interesting contrast in Burnham’s mindset from the last time she found herself in an unfamiliar world. In this case she regards it with a cautious optimism and recognises that there are opportunities here as well as a mystery to be solved where the Mirror Universe was, for all practical purposes, Hell.
Burnham’s reunion with the crew was an intense emotional beat where everyone was elated to be back together again. From Burnham’s perspective this makes sense as she hasn’t seen them in over a year and thought she may never see them again so her emotional state is fully justified. For the rest of the characters it has been a matter of days since they last saw her so there’s an inconsistency to the reactions that really stands out. Some allowances can be made for the fact that they’re happy she’s alive and well but that doesn’t connect with the efforts to highlight that there hasn’t been enough time to process their current circumstances shown elsewhere. Discovery is a show that overwhelms the viewer with emotional beats which can be a good thing and isn’t badly done here but some nuance to the reunion that accounts for the perspective of the crew more clearly would have enhanced it.
There’s a little bit of housekeeping once the decision to check in on Earth is made when Burnham willingly stands aside and tells Saru that he’s unquestionably the Captain because of how consistently he has proven himself capable. Burnham’s year separate from the crew has shown her that it’s not a role that suits her so she proudly endorses Saru in that role. This is a great emotional beat that makes perfect sense and Saru’s speech after accepting his official appointment to the role is a great example of why he’s so well suited to it. He leads the crew with compassion and authority while embodying Starfleet/Federation values perfectly. I look forward to seeing the challenges he will face settling into this role.
His two immediate challenges come from Burnham and Georgiou because they each take action against or without orders in their own ways. Georgiou doesn’t do anything in that space during the course of this episode but makes it clear that she will be a problem if what she wants to do doesn’t match up with Saru’s orders. Burnham goes rogue in this episode because she has spent a year taking action without having anyone tell her what to do so has to adjust to being back in a command hierarchy once again. In this case her plan works to the benefit of the Discovery crew but it’s interesting how it parallels her similar mindset back when the show started. In that case she took action and it turned out to be the wrong move which plunged the Federation into a costly War where here she managed to put things in motion that ended up solving the problem at hand. A major difference here is that she has learned from those events and considers her actions more carefully. Saru also has complete faith in her so trusted in what she was doing and followed her lead so the situations aren’t the same but the mindset is concerningly similar. Perhaps there will be a situation in a future episode where she takes action and it doesn’t work out. It’d be interesting to see how that conflict would play out following the development in Burnham and Saru’s relationship.
It is acknowledged that being part of a team and answering to someone else will take some adjustment as she hasn’t had to do that in so long but Saru ultimately trusts her so is willing to work through that with her. She takes on the role of first officer therefore completing the crew with all the expected roles. Saru could very well be in for a challenge if she has a lot of trouble adjusting but her assurance that she will try is enough for Saru at this point. This sets up a potentially interesting dynamic and resets Burnham back to the point we as viewers first saw her in terms of role while giving her a different challenge because of the surrounding circumstances.
Burnham’s return also provides scope for other interesting interactions. Her one on one conversation with Tilly is particularly notable as it focuses on Tilly processing recent events. She is beginning to mourn her family who are long dead by this point and wonders what their lives were like in her absence. It’s a really moving moment and acts as a representation of what the other characters will be feeling. I would like to see those other characters process this in their own way but a strong Tilly scene is always worthwhile viewing especially when it brings in her natural friendship with Burnham. The metaphor about the Dandelion connected to Burnham letting go of the crew was really poignant as well and introduced another layer of grief for Tilly who wonders if Burnham no longer needs her friendship.
Georgiou and Burnham’s interaction where Georgiou relishes the fact that Burnham seems to be becoming more like her with her clear comfort level at having no masters. It’s something Burnham denies but a big part of the episode is realising that she has actually settled into that role and understands the benefits of it. As usual, Georgiou is a keen observer even if her interpretation is somewhat skewed by her being from the Mirror Universe. Her scene with Book that takes the form of a mother sizing up her daughter’s new boyfriend is another highlight. It’s particularly enjoyable to see Book relatively unphased by Georgiou’s intimidating presence. It’s a small moment but one that works really well and serves as a strong reminder of how Georgiou feels about Burnham.
Book and Burnham’s dynamic remains engaging. Their friendship feels very lived in at this point with rapid fire examples of previous situations they’ve dealt with being thrown in as they prepare to handle the current one. I’m always a fan of characters referring to events they both know about without explaining the details around them as it makes for natural dialogue and encourages the viewer to pay attention so that context fills in the blanks. Their chemistry remains as strong as it did in the first episode with a real sense that their connection has evolved. The bickering makes sense and the earnest moment they share as Book departs feels earned. Hopefully it won’t be long before he returns as he’s an excellent addition to the cast.
One of the show’s new characters is introduced. Adira (Blu del Barrio); a young engineer who believes in the ideals of the Federation and wants to join the Discovery crew. Press for the season confirms that Adira will be the first non binary character in Star Trek history though in this episode the “she” pronoun is used. This suggests that Adira will transition to being non binary. Until that happens I’ll use “she/her” when referring to the character and “they/them” when referring to the actor. Adira certainly makes a memorable first impression by winding up Tilly and curiously poking around Discovery wanting to understand everything about the ship. She’s only 16 but it’s revealed that she is the host of a Trill Symbiont which means that she access to several lifetimes worth of memories and experience. At this point she is struggling to remember which suggests there may be something off about the connection between host and Symbiont. Adira is really well placed to be an archive of the time before Discovery’s arrival. Once she gains access to those memories she will likely hold valuable insight into pertinent historical events.
Adira mainly interacts with Stamets aside from the observations Tilly makes in her own unique way. Stamets’ appeal to her sense of curiosity in an encouraging tone makes for a really strong scene that sets up a potentially compelling dynamic between them over the coming episodes. For now she seems to slot naturally into that engineering role which could end up being further enriched should Reno become involved. It’s unfortunate she was absent during the inspection of engineering as her reaction to it would have made for great viewing.
The plot of the episode takes the form of a one and done problem that the crew need to work together to solve. Discovery’s first stop being Earth makes sense as it’s the best place to start looking for what’s left of the Federation especially with a message pointing them in that direction. Finding that there is no Federation presence on Earth was a surprise to the characters but wasn’t overly surprising as a viewer as it would be too simple for them to immediately connect with the remnants of the Federation in the third episode of the season. It’s obvious that they would be met with something unfamiliar to further cement the isolation being experienced by everyone new to this time period.
Earth is no longer a member of the Federation and is defended by an organisation called the United Earth Defence Force. The first impression given is that they are violently wary of outsiders and see Discovery as an immediate threat to their way of life. This isolationist Earth is a very timely idea that represents things happening in the real world and holds up a science fiction mirror that shows an extreme example of a possible development of that mindset.
This show does take a broadly optimistic view on it. At first, Ndoye (Phumzile Sitole) is cautious to the point of paranoia and sees everything outside Earth’s borders as a threat. As the episode progresses she comes to the realisation that complexity exists and she should be conscious of that. In the context of this episode she is a minor antagonist that contrasts with a more obvious one in Wen (Christopher Heyerdahl) who is initially introduced as a pilot that plunders others for supplies. The crew of Discovery end up acting as a mediator between them after stumbling into the middle of this conflict. Saru’s attitude is to find out why Wen wants to raid them rather than the violently defensive stance that Ndoye takes. He’s willing to put the ship and crew in danger to stand up for his belief in what the Federation stands for where Ndoye and Wen have both lost sight of that in their own way.
A solution is found when Burnham and Book kidnap Wen somehow -annoyingly the episode doesn’t actually show how that happened which feels like a significant gap- in order to force them to talk to one another. It turns out that Wen is part of a settlement orbiting Titan that suffered a catastrophic accident leaving them incapable of sustaining themselves and were attacked when they reached out to Earth for help. Earth’s isolationist stance caused this conflict through being unwilling to listen and left people on the brink of death as a result. Once this was known a conversation could begin that could lead to a solution that benefits both parties.
It’s a great resolution as it shows in very practical terms why the Federation matters and how those values can be applied in ways that work. It may seem obvious to open a dialogue and try to understand what caused the hostility but that third party is often needed to bring in that perspective that wasn’t considered in order to peacefully resolve a situation. It was impressively handled and shows what can be accomplished if people work to understand one another. Rebuilding the Federation will take a lot of work and this situation shows that it won’t be easy but with hope, optimism and the right skills it is absolutely possible. If this is how Star Trek is to be modernised then that’s no bad thing.
A strong episode that sets the tone for the season, sets up compelling character dynamics and proudly displays fundamental Star Trek values in a practical way. This season looks to be more episodic than this show previously was with this episode being a self contained story that has serialised elements in the background. Burnham’s return to Discovery sets up an interesting arc for her around adjusting to being part of a team and a hierarchy after becoming used to making her own decisions with no oversight. Georgiou is pleased that Burnham seems to be turning out to be more like her and Burnham can’t entirely deny it. There’s a potentially interesting dynamic between her and Saru as she works to adapt to taking orders again while he supports her. It’ll be interesting to see if she acts out of the scope of his orders and it produces an unfavourable outcome. Saru’s acknowledgement of the work that needs to be done to get her back into that mindset is a great showcase of how much their relationship has evolved. Saru officially being put in the role of Captain makes sense and Burnham endorsing him for the role makes for a strong character beat within the episode especially when it is followed by him proving his suitability for the role. Adira makes an impression right away and has a really strong interaction with Stamets. The reveal that she’s host to a Trill Symbiont places her as a natural archive of necessary historic information. The situation is presented well with Earth no longer being a member of the Federation and adopting an isolationist mindset. Burnham and Book working together to help resolve it showcases their natural dynamic while offering another opportunity to show Saru’s trust in her. The situation being resolved by having the two parties sit down and talk is fundamentally a Star Trek worthy solution that shows how important the Federation can be.
At times the episode lays it on too thick with the emotional beats with the crew’s reaction to reuniting with Burnham not making complete sense considering how little time has passed for them. It’s typical of Discovery to throw in large scale emotional moments regardless of the context and it doesn’t always work. More nuance to this would have enhanced it. Another issue was it wasn’t clear exactly what Book and Burnham did to capture Wen which left the whole thing feeling somewhat incomplete. Such issues were minor and didn’t detract from what was otherwise an excellent episode. If this is how Star Trek is to be modernised then that’s no bad thing.
- Saru officially being made Captain and instantly proving why that’s the right choice
- setting up an interesting dynamic between Burnham and Saru around her adjusting to being back in a hierarchy
- a strong Burnham and Tilly scene
- Book and Burnham’s natural lived in dynamic
- the Georgiou and Book interaction
- solving the situation in a way that’s true to the fundamental values of the franchise
- some overblown emotional beats
- the solution feeling incomplete due to a lack of clarity around what Book and Burnham did
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