Star Trek: Discovery – Season 5 Episodes 1 & 2

Apr 4, 2024 | Posted by in TV

“Red Directive” and “Under the Twin Moons”

Star Trek: Discovery returns for its fifth and final season with the reawakening of a centuries-old mystery and a race to uncover the answers.

The final season of Star Trek: Discovery represents a couple of franchise milestones. It’s the first Star Trek series to reach a fifth season since Voyager‘s began in 1998 and it’s the end of the show that revived the franchise. Discovery has been through a lot of changes since its debut in 2016 with each of its first three seasons effectively rebooting the show. Anson Mount’s Captain Christopher Pike joining the cast in season 2 promised a return to the traditional optimistic exploration after the gritty War story that was season 1 and season 3 represented another step change by flinging the ship and crew into the far future. Defining what Discovery is as a show has always been a challenge due to the constant changes but at its core, it’s very much a semi-serialised streaming era show that specialises in excess.


Starship Surfing – the new extreme sport

Discovery‘s commitment to excess is very evident in “Red Directive”. The episode opens with Captain Michael Burnham in a space suit atop a fleeing ship using a hand phaser to force it out of warp. It’s the sort of sequence that Discovery routinely delivers and it’s an example of what modern visual effects technology can provide as well as a declaration of intent that the only limits are the imagination of the creatives in terms of the set pieces. This level of excess is so far absent from the other live-action show, Strange New Worlds so it may be something the franchise loses when the show ends.

The sequence is initially bereft of context as the episode opens in media res before rewinding by a few hours to explain how Burnham ended up in that situation. Burnham and her crew are attending the celebration of 1000 years since the founding of the Federation -give or take a few decades-. It’s an uncommon situation for this cast of characters as they spend more time in the thick of the action rather than rubbing shoulders at events. The discomfort is evident from Burnham in particular even if she recognises the importance of such events as they represent what the Federation and Starfleet stand for in their own way. Despite that, she’s far more comfortable in crisis situations amid a mission but plays her part because such events are possible because she and others like her work to make them so.

It’s easy to see why the episode began in media res with an action sequence as it provides an exciting opening to hook viewers in before delivering a more sedate scene designed to catch the audience up on where the characters are and possibly introduce some character arcs to follow throughout the season. The most glaring setup is Stamets being worried about his legacy after the Federation moved away from developing the Spore Drive in favour of something called the Pathway Drive. Adira points out that at least that means Discovery will remain unique but Stamets remains concerned about his accomplishments being forgotten by history. This isn’t something that is pushed heavily in the first two episodes though a connection is drawn when a Soong-type android is found and Stamets comments on Alton Soong’s accomplishments being remembered so many centuries later. His concerns seem to disappear after that but there’s plenty of scope for his desire for legacy to be developed over the remainder of the season.


No meeting rooms were available

The crew’s attendance at the party is cut short when they are drafted into action following the discovery of a derelict Romulan ship containing something very valuable. Kovich is very interested in retrieving what the ship is carrying and Discovery’s Spore Drive provides the best chance of securing it before anyone else can. The mission is referred to as a “Red Directive” which is something that has never been referenced in Star Trek before but context confirms it’s a priority mission and considered a very big deal. Kovich is so invested that he attends personally to oversee the mission and he’s characteristically vague about what what motivates this interest.

In terms of plot, it’s basically a standard fetch quest that gives way to an action sequence. Discovery arrives and finds that they aren’t the first on the scene. A Bonnie and Clyde-inspired duo of couriers/treasure hunters/thieves named Mol (Eve Harlow) and L’ak (Elias Toufexis) arrive first and liberate the cargo just before Burnham and her team board the ship. This results in the chase that opens the episode which makes for an underwhelming answer to the loose mystery established by the in media res opening. The circumstances leading to Burnham standing on top of a ship moving at warp aren’t at all surprising so it was nothing more than a transparent attempt to hook the audience with an opening action sequence.

The sequence itself is brilliantly executed. Moll and L’ak are immediately a formidable presence with plenty of tricks that allow them to keep ahead of their pursuers. They are clearly skilled, experienced and practised at evading pursuers. The warp chase is effectively a game of chicken as they bank on Starfleet backing down before suffering catastrophic damage. Burnham is pragmatic enough to accept defeat if it means keeping the crews of two starships alive and safe. She recognises what Moll and L’ak are doing and she’s willing to let them escape to ensure there are no casualties.


This face looks familiar

Countering that is Captain Rayner (Callum Keith Rennie); the Captain of Discovery’s support ship the Antares. He’s introduced during this sequence as a voice in Burnham’s ear urging her to allow the risk because accomplishing the mission is more important; something that Kovich unequivocally agrees with. There is immediately a strong sense of the sort of Captain Rayner is. He’s used to having the odds stacked against him and improvising his way out of situations by taking what many would consider to be unacceptable risks. His refusal to deactivate the tractor beam comes from recognising that Moll and L’ak are playing chicken with their pursuers and not wanting to call their bluff. Burnham does eventually convince him to prioritise the safety of his ship and crew and back down but before that, he was committed to not letting them go.

Rayner’s calculated recklessness comes into play in the later action sequence when he risks causing an avalanche as he believes that the numbers favour his decision even though they are weighted in the direction of an avalanche being caused. He turns out to be right but also inspires Moll and L’ak to complete the transaction and trigger an avalanche to distract the pursuing Starfleet ships. This ends up costing Rayner his command as he is deemed too reckless to be trusted in that position.

Rayner losing his command is transparently paving the way for him to take on the role of Burnham’s first officer. The hearing that results in him being forced into retirement is contrived at best and bizarre at worst. President Rillak being in attendance is a confusing choice that was likely made for the sake of actor economy but in-universe it stands out because such proceedings would usually be handled by Starfleet. Vance being there makes sense and Burnham being brought in as a witness is expected but other officers should be in attendance to explore Rayner’s actions. Vance is a meaningful presence because he understands the difference between what the rule book says and the decisions being made in the moment.


When walking just won’t cut it

Urging Burnham to be honest while acknowledging her desire to protect her colleague is a strong display of understanding her point of view as well as taking his role in the proceedings very seriously. It’s another example of Vance being an excellent Admiral as he routinely takes multiple angles into consideration when managing a situation. The hearing is one of protocol and his role is very clearly defined but he is still able to express that understanding and use it to encourage the delivery of the truth.

Despite being a contrived situation that results in Rayner losing his command, it does provide a showcase of his values. The scene where Burnham offers him the First Officer position covers that ground when she directly asks him why he didn’t tell the enquiry what they wanted to hear so that he could keep his command. She points out his accomplishments and commendations but Rayner wastes no time dismissing them as unimportant before declaring “It’s what you do in the chair! Every day, every mission! That’s what matters!” showing that he prefers to let his actions speak for themselves and he isn’t interested in glory. He wants to do the work and takes his job very seriously. This fully justifies Burnham’s decision to offer him the First Officer job as she can be sure he will make decisions for the right reasons rather than looking for recognition. She can also be sure he is genuine because of his statement: “I know what I stand for. I know what I believe in. I’m not going to apologise for that.”. It’s simple, elegant and highlights that Rayner lives the fundamental Starfleet and Federation values.

Rayner has the potential to be an excellent addition to the Discovery crew as he’s an abrasive presence that may challenge the status quo. As a Captain, he will have his own views on how a ship should be run and those may come into conflict with Burnham’s command style. Taking orders may not be an easy transition for him and he will certainly challenge Burnham frequently so he may be a welcome addition to a group of people that are very comfortable with each other’s rhythms.


Are Starships supposed to do that?

Another thing that makes Rayner a useful presence is his ability to quickly analyse a situation and cut through the confusion. This is evidenced when he forces his way into helping Tilly and Adira figure out the power source. They are stuck overcomplicating the situation where Rayner encourages them to make use of what they know and approach from that angle. It’s a useful ability and is a wonderful display of what experience has taught him. Callum Keith Rennie immediately inhabits the character brilliantly and the character generally comes across as a version of what Lorca could have been; a Captain well suited to particular times and situations while still believing in the fundamental Starfleet and Federation values.

Moll and L’ak are lightly characterised for now with most of the information about them coming from Book’s analysis of their tactics. Book does learn that Moll is connected to him through the legacy of Cleveland Bookers and is the closest thing he has to family. It’s early days on this but initially, it seems contrived to create a familial connection between Book and Moll as it further shrinks the universe the show takes place in. Discovery has failed to develop its background enough to define how big and intertwined the Courier network is so it may be a relatively small community where such connections are common but at this point, the background development doesn’t exist so Book’s familial connection to Moll is unfortunately contrived and possibly unnecessary as it’s such a played out way to create a connection between characters when more imaginative routes exist.

Based on what has been presented, Moll and L’ak have the potential to number among Star Trek‘s greatest antagonists. They’re resourceful, intelligent, driven and have plenty of personality. They are also refreshingly underpowered compared to some recent examples so they are more believable as they appear to conform to a defined ruleset and they clearly have roots in the universe that are traceable. Indeed, part of who they are is defined by those roots so far.


Previously on Star Trek: The Next Generation

Discovery as a show remains committed to frontloading emotional storytelling. For better or worse it has always made that a priority and there are some strong examples of this type of storytelling such as the Saru/T’Rina relationship. It’s a measured and mature story of two people falling in love and making that work despite the demands of their careers. As the season begins, Saru has been offered the opportunity to take on a diplomatic role which would mean that he’s a lot closer to her and would be able to spend more time with her. He’s torn between his commitment to Starfleet and his interest in this new position. Seeing T’Rina more also factors into his thought process even though she urges him not to consider her when it comes to choosing the next step.

Ultimately he considers her a priority and isn’t ashamed of that so takes pride in factoring her into his decision. It’s presented as a dramatic beat that has weight but there’s very little to it beyond it being brought up once and then resolved not long after. It was likely driving at the notion of time-consuming careers and relationships being difficult to juggle but the show doesn’t have much to say about this so it’s nothing more than a detail that is brought up in conversation rather than being an actual tension to be resolved.

Saru’s decision to accept the offer so early in the season is surprising as it possibly takes him off the board for the remaining episodes. Leaving Discovery this early creates two main possibilities if he is to remain a major part of the show. The first is that an excuse will be made for him to rejoin the crew until the current situation is over and the second is that he will have his own plot that ties into the season arc in some way. It’s more likely to be the former but the latter is potentially more interesting, even if it means he won’t interact with the rest of the characters as often.


No job too small for the President

This move is arguably overdue. Saru leaving Discovery has been frequently referenced for quite some time and a natural transition seemed to exist at the end of season 3/beginning of season 4. Taking on an ambassadorial role suits the character perfectly so it’s a natural transition for him that should have taken place much earlier, particularly when there was a clear motivating factor in mentoring Su’Kal; something that hasn’t been mentioned since. Late as it is, it’s a compelling move for Saru and opens up a lot of storytelling possibilities as does his engagement to T’Rina.

“Under the Twin Moons” is built around Saru’s final mission and spends a lot of time focusing on his friendship with Burnham. They work together and reminisce about the ups and downs of their friendship. This absolutely deserved to receive attention as it’s an undeniably rich connection that has been cultivated over a long period of time. Burnham and Saru have supported each other, challenged each other and developed a deep bond of friendship in the time they have served together. The episode is very respectful of that and Saru’s goodbye is very effectively handled, particularly in terms of Burnham’s reaction to it.

His advice to her about finding a First Officer that will challenge her and the reminders of the second chance that Burnham was given prove to be pivotal as it encourages her to pay that second chance forward by providing one to Rayner. There’s also a strong contrast between Saru and Burnham as Saru appears to have a strong sense of belonging and purpose whereas Burnham is struggling with that.


One last mission

It appears to be brought on by the central mystery causing her to question her place in the universe. She confesses to feeling adrift and her commitment to Starfleet not providing the same comfort it once did in a log entry. Another possible reason for her listlessness is the breakdown in her relationship with Book. There’s a palpable tension between them when they reunite. Both talk about how they haven’t spoken even though they easily could have and neither can answer why that is. If Saru being self-assured contrasts Burnham being at a crossroads then the solidity of his relationship with T’Rina could be a mirror to Burnham and Book’s fractured relationship. Communication seems to be the key to Saru and T’Rina’s connection being as strong as it is and it’s something that Burnham and Book are lacking. Neither episode goes into detail about what caused this rift or how they might go about repairing it but their chemistry remains strong and they are sill able to work effectively together even though their is tension. Book, Burnham and Rayner are being positioned as an engaging trio to carry the action as well with a fun dynamic already trying to present itself.

There is a lot of merit to be found in the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery‘s fifth season but at the same time, it’s clear that the production team haven’t learned from their mistakes and demonstrates no interest in learning from them. The show prioritises style over substance -in these episodes at least- and delivers a ludicrous sequence where two starships crash saucer-first into a planet to stop an avalanche with their shields. It shatters credibility and adds to the issues that already exist buying into this altogether unimaginative far flung future.


We’ll be your antagonists for the season

Another mistake that isn’t unique to Discovery is the reliance on backwards referencing that doesn’t meaningfully add to the texture of the universe or franchise. The central mystery spins out from The Next Generation episode “The Chase” and promises to provide the answers to questions that fans were probably happier debating among themselves. Instead of coming up with a unique engaging mystery, the production team fall back on old material. Similarly, there is a Soong-type Android simply to make up an actor to resemble Brent Spiner’s Data. It isn’t a meaningful inclusion and actually stands out as being an issue as the character comes across as far too trusting for someone who has been in the line of work as long as he has. Neither of these inclusions overpower what is provided fortunately but there was an opportunity for originality that was passed over.

Discovery has always been billed as a serialised show but the reality is that much of each season is a collection of episodic adventures loosely connected by a central story that brings them all together. In this case, the Discovery crew are working to assemble a map that will lead them to the answers of the mystery. The early part of the season will likely see them travel to different places to have an adventure that will end in them either succeeding or failing to secure a clue that will point them in the direction of the next adventure. It’s a proven structure and, if executed well by providing a variety of interesting stories, it will prevent the central mystery from becoming stale. Overall, the season has a promising start that offers plenty of potential.


This isn’t goodbye…even though it is


A promising start to the final season that introduces a compelling new character and sets up some compelling character arcs.

  • 7/10
    "Red Directive" - 7/10
  • 7/10
    "Under the Twin Moons" - 7/10


Kneel Before…

  • a strong introduction for Captain Rayner
  • the beginnings of a fun trio in Burnham, Book and Rayner
  • exciting and well-executed action
  • Saru and T’Rina’s mature relationship
  • the showcase of Burnham and Saru’s complex friendship
  • Moll and L’ak as formidable antagonists


Rise Against…

  • the contrived scenario that loses Rayner his command
  • failing to justify the in media res opening
  • more examples of empty fanservice in the central mystery and the appearance of a Soong-type android
  • favouring style over substance


What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below

User Review
5.75/10 (2 votes)

We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you want to discuss. You can find us on Facebook, Twitter, BlueSky and Discord or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Review” box.

If you want to chat with me directly, I’m also on Twitter