Star Trek: Discovery – Season 3 Episode 8

Dec 3, 2020 | Posted by in TV

“The Sanctuary”

Star Trek: Discovery introduces the villainous Osyraa and presents a difficult situation for the Discovery crew to navigate.

So far this season has had an issue with world building in that elements are introduced and not covered in any great detail. The Emerald Chain have been referenced a lot and used as an antagonist but there has been no real sense of what they are and why they should be taken seriously as a threat. It was established as an organisation that had grown and thrived in the broken system that came about in the wake of The Burn but there wasn’t much more than that in terms of an explanation. Examples of operations they run were shown in “Scavengers” for example but this still offered little more than vague allusions to Osyraa (Janet Kidder) being someone that shouldn’t be crossed.


We need answers!

This episode looks to change that by making Osyraa a presence that the Discovery crew have to deal with. This provides an opportunity to directly show why she is a significant threat and get a sense of what the Emerald Chain are by looking at its leadership. The episode isn’t entirely successful at putting this across as little more about Osyraa is shown beyond the fact that she’s sadistic and achieves loyalty through fear. As antagonists go this is very basic stuff and doesn’t provide much reason to invest in her as an antagonist. Her objective in this episode is to reclaim Ryn (Noah Averbach-Katz) and she’s willing to go to any lengths to ensure that she achieves that. This makes for two main points of jeopardy in the episode; one is Discovery put in danger because they have Ryn on board, another is Book’s conflict with his brother combined with the possibility of his home planet having all life wiped out on it.

The Discovery portion of the jeopardy involves the usual conflicts between what protocol dictates and what the right thing to do. Since Kwejian isn’t a Federation world the crew are limited in what they can do. Their mission is to offer support while limiting actual involvement but it becomes more complicated when Osyraa threatens them. She wants Ryn and doesn’t recognise the neutrality of the Federation while they have him so the situation isn’t an easy one to navigate. When she attacks the planet Saru points out that protocol demands they take steps to stop her from committing atrocities which once again shows Saru’s suitability as a Captain. His interpretation of protocol is in line with his personal values as well as the underlying principles of the Federation so the question becomes how to take action in a way that won’t be interpreted as an act of War. Similar situations have often created compelling dilemmas in prior iterations of the franchise because it creates natural conflict between the rules that the characters are bound to and what most would consider to be the right thing. Federation and Starfleet protocol often technically prevent commissioned officers from taking action in situations where inaction will result in terrible things happening. In this instance doing nothing means that a sanctuary for endangered animals will be wiped out so there’s a tangible conflict between protocol and what needs to be done.

Fortunately there’s a loophole that can be exploited thanks to the presence of Book’s ship. Since it’s not a Federation starship then no rules are broken if it’s used to attack Osyraa. Tilly points out that it can be piloted by a Starfleet officer that has gone rogue and will be reprimanded for their actions after the fact. Detmer being the best pilot on hand considers the situation briefly before agreeing to take on the mission. It’s very brief but for a moment she embodies the conflict at play and quickly decides that what she believes to be right is more important than what protocol dictates so she takes the helm of Book’s ship and attacks Osyraa’s ship with Ryn telling her what targets to him to ensure maximum damage.


Stamets is here to help

This makes for a really exciting sequence with stunning visuals complimenting Detmer and Ryn’s interactions perfectly. At first the attack on Osyraa’s ship is less than successful because Detmer lacks the confidence to really throw herself into it. Her hesitation hampers her ability to perform until she realises what’s holding her back and takes steps to overcome it. The realisation comes when she recognises that Ryn is the only person who ever opposed Osyraa which resulted in him losing his antennae and becoming a fugitive being relentlessly hunted by her. Ryn is an example of someone who took a stand against an oppressor and stood by his convictions even when the consequences were less than positive. Detmer’s realisation is that facing something means that you can beat it which ties into her journey over the course of the season. Earlier episodes saw her consumed by her difficulty dealing with the new reality she and everyone else is dealing with. Her handling of the specific situation in this episode is an extension of that and the realisation she has is profound enough to motivate her to take control of the situation. Switching to manual control is a significant step as she’s taking ownership of the situation and using her agency to solve that. She specifically mentions that manual piloting was how she first learned to fly so there’s a real sense that she’s starting to adapt to being in this time period. This is unlikely to be the end of her period of adjustment but it’s a significant step forward and a very inspiring moment.

The second situation involves Book’s conflict with his brother, Kyheem (Ache Hernandez). This situation highlights the fear that Osyraa uses to maintain control. Book and Kyheem’s conversation highlights the constant compromises expected by Osyraa with each of them meaning the loss of something else. Kyheem very quickly comes across as sympathetic as it’s clear he’s doing whatever he feels that it takes to survive even though the goal posts continually move. He’s a strong case study for everyone being oppressed by Osyraa Kyheem resents Booker for appearing to turn his back on his family with mention of integrity and principles on both sides. Book points out that it’s inevitable that Osyraa will eventually come for him and the implication is that Book couldn’t live his life under constant fear so left to build his own life free of that. Kyheem’s conversation with Osyraa enhances his motivation with mention of a son. There’s a real sense that Kyheem is trapped and has to constantly compromise himself to protect his son. Janet Kidder is brilliantly intimidating in the role of Osyraa so it’s clear from that point of view why people would be afraid of her though there’s still no indication of how she amassed the resources she has at her disposal so there are gaps in terms of how the Emerald Chain managed to exist in the first place. It may seem unimportant in the context of this episode but there should be some justification for how the Emerald Chain are able to operate on the level that they do.

From a character driven point of view this plot works brilliantly as it provides backstory for Book in a really organic way, establishes the complicated relationship he has with his brother and forces Book to address how he feels about Starfleet, the Federation and Discovery. Book says that he likes being around people who can make a difference for people and planets that really need the help. It’s something be believes in and he really likes being around that most likely because with those resources combined with that outlook he feels that a real difference can be made. The fact that Kwejian was saved proves that a difference can be made and Book makes it very clear that he wants to be a part of that. It’s unclear how his role will change in the coming episodes following that commitment but it’s a further reminder of the morality that guides him. Other than the concerns around the Emerald Chain as an organisation and failing to address those, the situation in this episode was developed brilliantly and covered multiple perspectives in a really natural way.


Osyraa, we meet at last!

Georgiou’s recent difficulties form a subplot in the episode. It’s necessary to address these after introducing them but the coverage felt disconnected from the rest of the episode. Georgiou’s story doesn’t tie into anything else in any real way other than periodic mentions of the external situation. It’s a deliberate attempt to force a connection while failing to make it actually relevant. There are few answers to be found here but it’s clear she is being affected on a fundamental level that has impacted her overall health in really concerning ways. Her resistance to being examined and trusting her wellbeing in others is consistent with her arrogance and hostility. The point of this seems to be establishing that she is her own worst enemy and the biggest barrier to recovery is that she’s unwilling to accept help. Culber continues to cement himself as the defacto ship’s Counsellor by trying to find a way to appeal to her sense of self preservation and accept help which is successful to a degree but she still defaults to violent declarations when she feels vulnerable. Michelle Yeoh continues to give Georgiou depth and Wilzon Cruz does an excellent job matching that performance by giving Culber the right level of assertiveness to stand up to Georgiou.

The Adira/Stamets dynamic continues to be one of the strongest aspects of this season. This is the episode that establishes Adira’s non binary status when they correct Stamets after he uses the “she” pronoun. The correction comes with an explanation that they have never felt like a “she” but has kept it largely quiet before now. Gray was the only one who knew because Adira felt close to him so was able to be completely open with him. Adira telling Stamets shows how much their connection has developed and how comfortable they feel opening up. It’s a slow process with a great deal of hesitation but the familiarity is certainly growing. Making it clear that Adira being uncomfortable with the “she/her” pronouns predates being bonded with the Symbiont was an interesting choice as it would have been so easy to attribute this to the Symbiont influencing their identity rather than it actually being something unique to Adira. There is still confusion around processing everything they now have access to but they are certain about the realisation that predated the bonding process. Ultimately it’s met with complete acceptance from Stamets who seems genuinely pleased that they feel comfortable enough to assert their identity,

There is an added concern around Gray not appearing to Adira any more for reasons unknown. Adira is very worried about this as they can still feel Gray’s presence but the interaction is gone so they have no idea if Gray is upset or if there is another reason not connected to that. Stamets is there to offer his support and lets Adira accept it on their own terms without any pressure from him. The scene where they play music together is incredibly charming and further highlights how understanding Stamets is. There was a parental vibe to the way Culber and Stamets talked about Adira while they thought they were asleep. Found family is one of this shows ongoing themes so it makes sense that there would be a pseudo parental unit created between Stamets, Culber and Adira. Despite the lifetimes of experience Adira has access to they are still young and in need of guidance. It seems they are becoming more comfortable with the idea of accepting that guidance as shown by accepting that they should go to bed while the algorithm runs.


Taking control

Tilly adapting to her role as First Officer is referred to throughout the episode though isn’t as much of a focus as it should be. She does try to adapt to the duties that come with it by making sure that Ryn speaks to Saru in the proper way and offering her input on the bridge when the occasion calls for it but it’s not all that different to what she would do before so there’s yet to be any distinction between her old role and her current one. The way she deals with Ryn and gains his trust enough for him to reveal what he knows about the Emerald Chain works really well and the subplot involving helping Saru figure out what his “Captain Catchphrase” will be was hilariously endearing. “Carry On” doesn’t have the same punch as “Engage!”, “Make it so!” or even Janeway’s “Do it!” but it is better than Archer’s “Get started” so maybe it will get better the more it’s used.

There’s no denying that this episode was overflowing with content and wasn’t able to balance everything it contained properly but there was a good spread of characterisation that showed this show is capable of storytelling where everything doesn’t directly link back to Burnham whether it makes sense to do so or not. This made for a strong display of the potential the other characters have and that Burnham can be connected to a plot without it being about her. It would benefit the show to do more of this.


Brothers get it done


An excellent episode that balances the conflicts well and uses them as a natural jumping off point for strong characterisation. Introducing Osyraa is necessary to establish her as a threat beyond the references teased throughout the season. There is still no real justification for how the Emerald Chain are able to operate but Janet Kidder does great work showing how intimidating she can be and the episode clearly establishes that she controls others through fear. Book’s brother, Kyheem is immediately a sympathetic character with clear motivations and acts as a strong case study for the mindset that those oppressed by Osyraa will have. Using Kyheem to provide backstory for Book and provide an opportunity to explore how he feels about Starfleet, The Federation and Discovery works really well to tease out that information naturally. Book committing himself to what the Federation stands for creates a lot of interesting opportunities in the coming episodes. Discovery’s involvement in the situation creating a conflict between protocol and what many consider to be the right thing to do plays out brilliantly with the loophole of Book’s ship being piloted by a technically rogue Starfleet officer making for a logical solution. Detmer and Ryn’s dynamic in this visually striking sequence is excellent with it connecting to Detmer’s difficulties explored throughout the season. Ryn helping her realise that facing problems means that they can be beaten allows her to literally take control of the situation by calling back to how she learned to fly. It’s not a complete fix but it’s a step in the right direction for her and ties perfectly into the crisis at hand.

The investigation into Georgiou’s difficulties provide little in the way of answers but it is made clear she is being affected on a fundamental level and it’s impacting her physical health. Culber and Georgiou’s dynamic is excellent with the performances complimenting that perfectly but the plot itself felt completely disconnected from the external problem despite periodic attempts to force a connection. The Adira/Stamets dynamic continues to be among the most compelling things the show has to offer. Adira opening up to Stamets about the preferred pronouns they would rather be known by is a very natural way to show how their bond is growing and highlights that their sense of identity isn’t tied to the Trill Symbiont. The question around why Gray has suddenly gone silent allows Stamets to be supportive in really interesting ways including a really charming sequence where they play music together. There was also a parental vibe when Culber became involved which ties into the show’s ongoing “found family” theme in a way that makes sense for the characters involved. Tilly adapting to her role as First Officer isn’t quite as prominent as it should be but her gaining Ryn’s trust works well and the subplot around Saru finding his own “Captain’s Catchphrase” is hilariously endearing. This episode certainly had too much content to juggle but it’s also a clear example of storytelling that doesn’t connect everything explicitly to Michael Burnham whether it makes sense to do so or not.

  • 8.5/10
    The Sanctuary - 8.5/10


Kneel Before…

  • an organic conflict between protocol and doing the right thing
  • Detmer taking inspiration from Ryn to take ownership of herself and the situation in a really profound way
  • the exciting action sequence
  • Book and Kyheem’s interactions
  • Kyheem being both a sympathetic character and a natural case study for Osyraa’s oppression
  • organically introducing backstory for Book and affirming his commitment to what the Federation stands for
  • Janet Kidder being believably intimidating
  • the Adira/Stamets dynamic continuing to delight
  • demonstrating that storytelling is possible without explicitly connecting everything to Michael Burnham


Rise Against…

  • failing to establish the Emerald Chain as a group that functions
  • the Georgiou plot failing to connect to the external situation
  • far too much going on in the episode to juggle properly


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User Review
5.25/10 (2 votes)

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