Star Trek: Discovery – Season 3 Episode 12
“There is a Tide…”
Star Trek: Discovery airs its penultimate episode with the ship under siege and an offer that could change the Federation forever.
One of the bigger problems that has plagued this season is world building or the lack of it. Venturing into a new and unexplored time period provides plenty of opportunity to develop something entirely new but this season has lacked focus on building out the world the show now inhabits. The unfortunate consequence of this is that it makes stakes harder to invest in without the groundwork in place to support them. This is especially evident when it comes to the Emerald Chain; they have been referenced over the course of the season with them being an antagonist in several episodes but prior to this episode there was no real sense of what the Emerald Chain is or what makes them such a significant threat. One thing that was never really established is their size. It is made clear that they control territory and enslave people but it’s unclear how much territory they control or how many people are oppressed by them.
Osyraa became the face of the organisation without actually establishing what the organisation was so it dilutes her threat value massively since it’s unclear what resources she has. The same problem exists around the Federation. It’s clear the Federation is far smaller than it used to be but they still have access to advanced technology, considerable resources and have a great deal of influence. The galaxy may be disconnected but the Federation still operates as it once did albeit in a far more limited capacity. Unfortunately their limitations haven’t been properly established which also doesn’t help encourage viewers to invest in the stakes.
A significant portion of the episode features a conversation between Vance and Osyraa where they discuss reaching some kind of agreement. The conversations they have are actually really interesting because they are two confident figureheads genuinely interested in finding a way to put an end to hostilities. Through their interactions more information is given about the Emerald Chain and the clarity is welcome because it answers a number of questions that haven’t been addressed so far. They are a large organisation with political governance in the form of a congress. Osyraa refers to herself as minister and much of what she and Vance discuss is political in nature. Adding the lie detector hologram Eli (Brendan Beiser) is an obvious shortcut to get around the fact that Osyraa isn’t to be trusted. If viewers operate on the assumption that Eli never fails to identify a lie then it’s easier to accept that Osyraa is being genuine rather than using deception to mask a more elaborate scheme. It does work for the most part and it allows Osyraa’s proposal to land as something more than a distraction.
As I’ve said, the Emerald Chain hasn’t been developed as a functioning organisation up until this point and a few lines in this episode isn’t really going to change that but getting even the briefest sense that there is a structure does add weight to these discussions as it makes it less about dealing with a small group and turns it into two political powers negotiating. Osyraa’s proposal is to unite the Emerald Chain and the Federation to make a stronger Federation that is able to get around the limitations of both organisations and be more than the sum of its parts. On the surface it looks to be in the spirit of the Federation itself but there are compatibility issues because both organisations stand for vastly different things. Federation values are around tolerance, well-being and unconditional assistance where the Emerald Chain are around oppression, acquisition and fear so it doesn’t seem like strong partnership potential. Osyraa talks about changes that she wants to make such as outlawing slavery but the Federation need to make concessions such as acknowledging and allowing capitalism. This struck me as interesting as the Federation has always been painted as an ideal society that has grown beyond greed, poverty and a whole host of negative things but that setup would seem to be tested in the current time period. Once again we’ve seen little evidence of that but the implication is that an organisation like the Emerald Chain exists because the Federation is weakened to the point that it lacks the resources to maintain the idyllic society so it could be that it has massively fallen out of favour as people fail to see the benefits of living life according to certain values. The Emerald Chain was able to fill that gap but controlled people through fear and debt which bred cynicism among the people.
The question being asked here, at least to some extent, is whether the Federation ideals still work? If the thinking is applied to the modern world then the viewer can ask whether those ideals could ever work. Examining them through the lens of our modern understanding and encouraging the viewer to consider the question is a very “Star Trek” thing to do and on some level it does work within the context of the episode but if the work had been done to develop both organisations then it would have been so much better. The idea of a Federation that is so lacking in influence or resources that it has to consider resorting to capitalism in order to survive is a really interesting idea that I would like to see explored as it would be seen as a significant step back when compared to what was previously built but arguably might be necessary for the survival of the organisation itself at least from a certain perspective. Discovery has spent much of the season proving how the Federation ideals can be applied practically though that has been on a very small scale. Perhaps something has to change for the continued survival of the organisation though there is a different debate to be had over whether a capitalist Federation is really the Federation. This may not be a debate the show is interested in having but it’s certainly there for consideration.
Osyraa seems to be fairly reasonable to some extent with a ready drafted armistice agreement that Vance concedes is impressive and a promise to reduce some of the more questionable activities over a fifteen year period once the agreement is signed. It’s unrealistic to change everything about the Emerald Chain overnight so the phased alteration with a timeline in place adds believability to the whole thing. Osyraa’s approach adds complexity to the character as well after being a one note antagonist with impressive presence up until this point. In general this episode does this a lot with Osyraa with the perspective of Aurellio (Kenneth Mitchell) making the case for her having a compassionate side. Stamets and Aurellio’s discussions around Osyraa are really interesting because they start on an even plain with them both being scientists but have vastly different experiences of her. Aurellio insists there is more to her than it seems and Stamets acknowledges that but also points out that she’s exactly as she seems based on observations. Nobody is winning that argument at this stage but Aurellio’s account of how she gave him an opportunity when things looked bleak for him at least make his viewpoint understandable. Osyraa’s actions actively contrast this to a problematic extent which risks undoing the strong work done in her interactions with Vance though there is still time to provide clarity.
Aurellio’s a reasonable case study for the current time period being one where people have to make the best of a bad situation. It is firmly established that he isn’t a bad person and only wants to further the course of science. He makes reference to Stamets time being a lot easier for someone like him to function effectively but in the current time period he has to take what he can get and he owes Osyraa a debt of gratitude for allowing him to pursue his interests in the way that he has. Of course she asks a high price in return such as using his knowledge to force Stamets to operate the Spore Drive. In different circumstances Stamets and Aurellio would be friends and colleagues but for now they are on opposite sides which is less than ideal for both of them.
Having them relate to one another through having a family that they care about was a really clever choice and confirmed the parental connection that has been set up between Stamets and Adira. Up until now it has been presented that way without being confirmed but now it is explicitly stated that Stamets sees the relationship that way. This increases the tension significantly by offering an organic reminder that Culber, Adira and Saru remain inside a highly irradiated nebula with every second Discovery spends under Osyraa’s control being one second closer to their death. Stamets is particularly concerned about that because of Culber and Adira but the urgency of getting back to them will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind.
Stamets’ feelings about Culber and Adira in particular being stranded in the nebula come to a head after he’s rescued and he immediately prepares to jump Discovery back there. Burnham isn’t about to let him do that as the situation warrants Discovery remaining where it is for a host of reasons such as Osyraa not gaining control of the Dilithium and the ship and crew being under her control. Most importantly is Stamets being on Discovery means that Osyraa always has a way to control the Spore Drive so separating the two becomes the priority. Stamets isn’t prepared to accept that as he’s understandably blinded by his emotions but Burnham is no stranger to making difficult decisions in crisis situations so forces Stamets to be separated from the ship. His visceral outburst when he realises that Burnham has no intention of returning to the nebula at that time is wonderfully played and the long overdue mention of the fact that the Discovery crew literally gave up their lives to follow Burnham into the future is perfectly placed to illustrate that he feels everything important in his life is being ignored. Burnham’s decision is the right one under the circumstances and her willingness to make that decision is consistent with her character as is her less than thrilled reaction to forcing it on Stamets. There’s a lot going on between these two characters and there will hopefully be lasting damage to their friendship that can be explored into the next season.
The Burnham portion of the plot can best be compared to Die Hard with some direct references to the film at play including listening in on communications and the loss of footwear. She doesn’t end up walking over broken glass but a leg injury is a less overt substitute. More could have been done with Discovery acting as an arena for some stealth guerilla warfare instead of relegating it to a couple of key scenes though the focus of the episode would have had to be on that rather than the other elements in order for that to work effectively. Enough focus is given to highlight Burnham’s resourcefulness and knowledge of Discovery which means that it works and is a natural part of the story playing out.
Tilly and the rest of the crew engineering their escape while later being aided by Book is another strong feature of the episode. The actors all work really well together and Tilly once again shows her ability to manage a crisis even if her moment of self doubt is small and tossed aside really quickly. She keeps calm, manages the team well and makes clear orders as to how the situation will be managed. The ending with the Sphere Data controlled robots comes across as more ridiculous than epic but other than that Team Discovery is strongly portrayed.
The death of Ryn is certainly unfortunate given the growth the character achieved in his previous appearance. He does have that moment of catharsis with Osyraa where he gets to tell her he’s no longer afraid of her and there’s nothing she can do to intimidate him because he has had help dealing with what she did with him but his death immediately after means that the catharsis is short lived and will have no bearing on future events at all. Ryn learned a lot and grew as a character but Osyraa hasn’t learned anything and there’s no indication that she fears her world collapsing around her. The lesson she starts to internalise should have been that the way she runs things isn’t sustainable which would link to the lesson Georgiou learned about the Terran Empire during her time in the show. This may yet happen as she runs out of options though one episode probably isn’t going to be enough to develop this properly.
This episode also has the unenviable position of being the middle of a three part story where tension has to be maintained without actually resolving much. It was a smart decision to keep the focus on Discovery and Starfleet Headquarters so that the plot wasn’t diluted by periodically cutting to those left in the nebula. It is very difficult to analyse what it has to offer in a complete sense because the answers may be provided in the following episode. Based on what is presented here there is still a lot to cover both in terms of the situation Discovery is in and what those in the nebula are dealing with. Stretching out a story over more than one episode to provide ample time to tell that story is definitely making things stronger overall but there are still more questions than answers.
Another good episode that asks big questions about the Federation as a concept, gives much needed depth to Osyraa and provides fun homages to Die Hard. This season has suffered from a general lack of world building which does let down a lot of what this episode is looking to accomplish. Getting more information about the Emerald Chain in terms of size and structure is certainly welcomed and clarifying Osyraa’s position within that organisation adds depth to her but it feels rushed and also serves to highlight how poorly developed the Federation is at the same time. It has been made clear that the Federation isn’t as big as it once was but it’s still unknown how massively their influence has diminished so it’s difficult to accept the information presented. Establishing the Emerald Chain as a major power is a welcome shift and it make Vance/Osyraa interactions more interesting as a result but it is very late in the season. Osyraa’s proposal to create a more powerful Federation by combining it with the Emerald Chain is unexpected and having Vance see the merit in it on some level was interesting. There’s realism to what Osyraa offers and it allows the audience to ask big questions around whether Federation ideals can work in a practical sense especially with limited resources. It may not be something the show ultimately tackles but presenting the idea is compelling. Adding further depth to Osyraa through Aurellio being presented as a case study for people having to take whatever opportunities they can get in this time period worked really well though her actions actively contrast the idea that she has a compassionate side.
Some of the strongest material in the episode was the interactions between Stamets and Aurellio. Having them bond over family and science was fitting and naturally serves as a reminder of the characters stranded in the nebula. Stamets’ emotional connection to Culber and Adira comes into play in a big way when Burnham forces the separation between Stamets and Discovery to stop Osyraa being able to use the Spore Drive. His visceral outburst as well as the long overdue addressing of the fact that the entire crew gave up their lives to follow Burnham into the future made for a strong moment while also highlighting Stamets’ understandable lack of objectivity. Burnham making the tough call is consistent with her character as is her less than thrilled reaction. The homages to Die Hard as Burnham sneaks around Discovery are well used though it may have been better to have more focus on her operating within the ship. Tilly and the rest of the crew engineering their escape also works really well though Tilly’s moment of self doubt is too brief and resolved far too quickly to be effective. She does prove herself to be good in a crisis and it’s an entertaining part of the story. The ending where the Sphere Data controlled robots show up to help is more laughable than epic though it may lead to something interesting. Ryn’s death is unfortunate particularly with it coming right after a moment of catharsis that highlights his growth as a character where Osyraa shows that she is unimpacted by the act of killing him. Osyraa should be starting to internalise a lesson around her way of running things not working long term but there’s no indication of that and likely not enough time in the final episode to cover this in any detail.
- adding depth and clarity to both Osyraa and the Emerald Chain
- Vance and Osyraa’s interactions
- encouraging the audience to consider if Federation ideals work in practical terms
- Aurellio as a case study of people having to make the best of what is available in this time period
- Stamets and Aurellio connecting through family and science
- confirming that Stamets feels a parental connection to Adira
- Burnham making the tough decision and Stamets understandably failing to be objective about it
- Stamets’ visceral reaction to Burnham’s decision
- Tilly and the crew’s efforts to retake the ship
- the Vance/Osyraa interactions suffering due to the lack of world building over the season
- Osyraa’s actions actively contrasting any suggestion of depth
- Tilly’s moment of self doubt being too brief and resolved too quickly
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