Star Trek: Discovery – Season 3 Episode 6
Star Trek: Discovery sees Burnham go Rogue in order to rescue Book and track down intelligence that could be pivotal in learning the cause of The Burn.
I find myself consistently in two minds about this season. On one hand I’m largely on board with the return to episodic storytelling with character based threads carrying through the episodes even though it has so far come with the drawback of plots being wrapped up far too quickly. The problem with the episodic structure is that the writers don’t have a firm grasp on depth or nuance so the complicated situations tend to have a simple resolution that doesn’t feel all that believable or satisfying. This leaves the episodes with something of a rushed and incomplete quality that robs them of true greatness.
Another issue the season has is the central mystery isn’t all that interesting. The Burn was a cataclysmic event where the cause remains unknown and Burnham has become obsessed with getting to the bottom of it because she believes it to be the answer to restoring the Federation to its former glory. This is tied with her difficulty readjusting to being part of a hierarchy after a year of operating autonomously. It has been an ongoing struggle that was manageable up until this episode but it was inevitable that a situation would present itself that tests how far Burnham can push before more difficult conversations need to happen.
This episode presents that very scenario when Book’s ship shows up with only Grudge the Cat aboard to deliver a holographic message about a black box flight recorder that could contain important information about The Burn. Burnham’s obsession with solving this mystery makes this a priority for her and she refuses to accept that it isn’t a priority for everyone else which creates some initial friction as the current orders are for Discovery to be on standby in case a situation escalates that they have to quickly respond to. Burnham’s attitude is that she will be there and back before Discovery is needed which is something she needs to believe in order to justify the urgency she associates with this information. Saru is the voice of protocol in this situation and makes it clear that they have a direct order that needs to be followed because Discovery is a cog in a large machine rather than a singular entity that gets to pick and choose where they go.
Burnham’s decision echoes the one she made in the pilot to stage a mutiny against Captain Georgiou in pursuit of what she believed to be the right course of action. In that scenario she disobeyed a direct order, betrayed her Captain and ended up playing a major role in starting a long War with the Klingons. She was punished for that and eventually forgiven but it’s clear that she hasn’t really learned from that experience considering her behaviour here. After Saru tells her she can’t go after Book and the Black Box she takes it upon herself to recruit Georgiou to join her on an unsanctioned mission. Naturally Georgiou is more than happy to go along with it because she doesn’t care much for Starfleet protocol and has a soft spot for Burnham. This pairing follows on from Georgiou’s observation of Burnham’s shift in attitude after a year of being free of a command structure and allows their dynamic to flourish in a really natural way. It was especially enjoyable to see Georgiou wind Burnham up about her connection to Book and tear apart her phrasing to find out how Burnham really feels about him. Once again it’s a riff on a parental dynamic and is a really organic way of filling in the gaps of the year Burnham spent waiting for Discovery without overloading the viewer with unnecessary exposition. Georgiou’s assumption proves to be entirely correct as evidenced by Book and Burnham’s kiss later in the episode.
I called the mission in the previous episode a “fetch quest” so I’ll continue with the video game comparisons in calling the mission in this one a “side quest”. If the main plot is Discovery becoming a part of Starfleet again then The Burn is an optional side project that has no real bearing on that so any mission focused on gaining information that might lead to learning what cause it is broadly inconsequential. Ultimately The Burn provides an excuse for this plot to happen and in theory it counts as world building to learn more about the Andorian/Orion syndicate known as the Emerald Chain but in reality it’s a very basic prison break story that more provides a forum for Georgiou to show her contempt for their operation as a distraction that allows Burnham to work to undermine it. Michelle Yeoh continues to delight in this role; Her casual contempt for those in charge and the way she commands respect further reinforces what made her such an effective Emperor back when she occupied that position. Georgiou is naturally intimidating so it’s easy to see why she would get away with acting this way despite not having any real power in that situation.
She is suffering from some problems following her conversation with the mysterious man in the previous episode. Periodic flashbacks to her time in her own universe containing visceral imagery cripple her throughout the episode. They are without context at this point but there’s the strong suggestion of an unprocessed loss that is coming to the surface that prevents her from maintaining her composure at key moments. Burnham notices it and Georgiou opens up to her about how long it has been happening though it is largely parked as a concern to be dealt with later. It does successfully increase tension when it manifests and shows that the trip to the future has had a profound effect on everyone. The fact that Georgiou has been impacted in such a way even if it is prompted by an external influence highlights how significant an adjustment it is for everyone. Georgiou’s reaction continues the PTSD theme present in every other episode this season while providing a different spin on it.
Burnham and Georgiou’s mission itself wasn’t all that interesting. There were elements of world building in there such as the treatment of prisoners/slaves with the Andorian serving as a very clear example of what happens to those who try to fight back. It’s a really clever tactic to turn someone from a rallying voice to a pariah by making associating with him a black mark by itself. As with most things this season the detail isn’t there and there’s a lack of any real exploration into the ideas at play but it is interesting on a surface level at the very least. The focus is firmly on the characters which is absolutely the right thing but there’s a real lack of effort in the storytelling that makes the overall experience suffer as a result.
Naturally the jail break is a success and Book gets to go back to Federation Headquarters with Burnham so that she can face the music for what she has done. Saru spends the episode wrestling with what to do about this act of insubordination though is helped along massively by a conversation with Tilly where she encourages him to consider how it will look if Admiral Vance finds out about this without Saru being the one to tell him. The Discovery crew are still working to prove themselves in the context of Starfleet as it is now so withholding information such as this from those in command wouldn’t be looked on favourable. Saru is understandably concerned because telling Vance the truth shows an inability on his part to keep his crew in line which is never a good look for a Captain. Extra complexity is added when Vance points out that Saru should have come to him with what Burnham had learned so there’s a learning curve from Saru’s perspective in understanding that he has to answer to those senior to him. There’s also the loyalty part of the equation to consider; Saru cares deeply for Burnham after everything they’ve been through so doesn’t find it easy to manage her in this way because it wounds him personally to inflict severe consequences on someone he has grown close to. It’s a really interesting look at the problems that come with a crew that have become a family and Saru has difficult decisions to make as the head of that family.
Burnham accepts the consequences of her actions without apologising for them. She accepts the difficulties that have been caused as a result of her decision but still feels that she did the right thing. Vance’s reaction is a really complicated one as he’s furious at the breach of protocol that he is now having to deal with but recognises that Burnham’s reaction resulted in lives being saved so opts to show some form of leniency by not putting her in the Brig. He does make it clear that continued insubordination will not be tolerated and highlights that there was a risk of Saru having to take Discovery into a dangerous situation without its first officer. This adds real depth to Vance’s character by showing how he handles the burden of leadership and doesn’t entirely base his decisions on what the regulations say. He weighs up Burnham’s actions with the result they generated and recognises the good she ended up doing. The opening of the episode compliments this wonderfully with him weighing up the broad situation and considering how to use the resources available to him effectively. He’s a really interesting leadership figure and it’s clear that his responsibilities are weighing on him significantly.
Saru is forced to relieve Burnham of her duties as first officer and relegate her to only acting as science officer. He does this because he can’t trust her to follow his lead and can’t afford to have such uncertainty on his bridge. Doug Jones plays the moment perfectly and Burnham assuring him that he’s doing the right thing makes for a really strong moment of camaraderie between them. She regrets the difficulties it has created for someone she cares deeply about but also feels that she has done the right thing so it’s not an easy situation. This level of complexity should be applied to everything the show delivers and the fact that some aspects are done so well only highlights how poorly done the other aspects are. Burnham accepting the consequences of her actions through Saru’s decision is an excellent character beat that makes great use of the dynamic that has evolved since the show began and is genuinely heartbreaking to watch as Burnham internalises how much she has hurt someone she cares about by undermining his authority.
The dynamic between Adira and Stamets that was hinted at in her first appearance develops along really interesting lines. Stamets recognising her intelligence and expressing gratitude for her upgrades to the Spore Drive interface leads into a really heartfelt interaction when he observes her talking to herself in the Mess Hall. Of course she’s talking to Gray who was encouraging her to make friends rather than remaining isolated in her new surroundings. Adira is reluctant to do so because her recent experience of gaining access to the memories of her previous hosts has left her with a lot to deal with that she hasn’t been able to process yet. I mentioned in a previous review that it’s possible her connection to Gray might prevent her from forming other connections and that is shown to be happening here until Stamets reaches out to her and offers her friendship. He is better able to relate to her than anyone else because he understand what it’s like to deal with a loss that ends up reversing to some degree. Stamets mourned Culber and then got him back which is very similar to what Adira is dealing with though not exactly the same. Gray is still dead but his essence lives on within her and they are able to meaningfully interact. Nothing is said about Adira imagining things or being less than sane because Stamets understands that the universe is a very weird place where anything is possible so he accepts what she says at face value and offers his support. It’s a really meaningful and charming connection that suggests Adira’s connection to Gray could be a healthy one if she doesn’t rely on it as her only means of interaction.
The main message the episode is driving at in this character dynamic is that love takes many varied and equally valid forms that can’t be judged by those not involved. Stamets understands that after losing Culber and having to redefine their relationship when he returned. There are constant challenges to weather and unique problems to deal with but ultimately it’s all worth it because of the intimate connection that develops as a result. Adira may have to accept that the manifestation of Gray can’t give her everything she wants from a partner but maybe what she gets from it in its place is more than worth what is lost. There’s lots to play with in this dynamic and having Stamets help her to deal with that is a natural fit.
Stamets and Culber’s conversation is another example of how well built this relationship is. There was the mundane nightly routine of brushing their teeth and talking about their day in the first season that immediately made their relationship feel lived in. This episode features a similar scenario with them discussing Adira as they get into bed. It’s a great way to highlight how comfortable this relationship is while providing a natural forum for Stamets to discuss his feelings about the experience he had connecting with Adira. It’s incredibly refreshing to see rich relationships being built that don’t include Michael Burnham as it really adds texture to the show on the whole.
A compelling episode that makes great use of Burnham’s difficulty adjusting to being back in a command structure, shows the complexity of following orders in opposition to loyalty and deepens the Stamets/Adira dynamic in really interesting ways. Burnham’s difficulty emerges when a message from Book points her in the direction of information that could help solve the mystery of The Burn. Her obsession prompts her to disobey a direct offer and recruit Georgiou to go on an unsanctioned mission while Discovery waits to be called into service to deal with an escalating situation. This calls back to the decision Burnham made in the first episode of the show and shows that she hasn’t really learned anything from the events that followed. The year she spent outside of any sort of command structure has also encouraged this attitude and she is willing to disobey orders in pursuit of something she believes is right. Burnham and Georgiou made for a fun pairing as always with Georgiou continuing to delight in the way she can take charge in any situation but the side quest was less than interesting. There was an attempt at world building through how the slaves are treated and how rebellion is handled but it fails to be much more than surface level. Georgiou’s version of PTSD is compelling so far though.
It was far more interesting to see the consequences of Burnham’s actions through how both Saru and Vance reacted. Vance has a lot of depth added to him in this episode through a measured reaction to what he has to deal with. He makes it clear that what Burnham did is serious but the fact that she saved lives keeps her out of the Brig for now. There’s also an element of Saru needing to learn that all options should be taken to those he answers to which includes the information that Burnham had. There’s a lot of complexity in how different characters have to adjust to the current situation. Saru relieving Burnham of her duties is a really heartbreaking moment that draws on the well developed connection that has grown between them. He realises that he can’t trust her in the way a first officer should be trusted and has to make a difficult decision for the good of the crew. Burnham accepts the consequences but still feels she did the right thing therefore adding further complexity. The Stamets/Adira dynamic develops in really interesting ways as Stamets relates to her having experienced losing someone that came back to him. Gray is encouraging Adira not to isolate herself and make friends which is exactly what Stamets offers. He accepts that she is speaking to a manifestation of her lost love at face value and discusses his experience with her which forms a strong bond between them. From Adira’s point of view it looks like Gray will be a healthy manifestation as it doesn’t prevent her from forming other relationships. There are a lot of ways this could go and so far it is enhancing all involved. Stamets and Culber talking as they get ready for bed allows Stamets the chance to reflect on what he has experienced and outline how he feels about it in a really natural way. It’s refreshing to see strong emotional connections that don’t involve Michael Burnham.
- the complexity around Burnham’s decision and the consequences of it
- Vance gaining greater depth with his measured reaction to dealing with Burnham’s insubordination
- highlighting that Saru has to adjust to answering to a command structure
- the heartbreaking moment where Saru punishes Burnham
- the Stamets/Adira dynamic
- Gray encouraging Adira to make friends and not isolate herself
- the natural Culber/Stamets conversation
- the establishing of Georgiou’s PTSD
- Burnham and Georgiou making for an engaging pairing
- some interesting world building
- the Burnham/Georgiou plot failing to be all that interesting
- not enough time to properly explore many of the ideas at play
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