On Star Trek: Discovery, Ideals and Hope Are All We Have Left

On Star Trek: Discovery, Ideals and Hope Are All We Have Left
Image: CBS

If last week’s Discovery premiere was about Michael Burnham learning to share the hope on her shoulders with the people around her, season three’s sophomore episode is much the same for the crew of the Discovery itself. But there’s an inherent difference that plays a huge part in “Far From Home” — the crew already has people to share that load.

Illustration: Jim Cooke Illustration: Jim Cooke

“Far From Home” feels, in many ways, like a mirror to “That Hope is You, Part 1.” The premise is much the same, except for now instead of it being Michael dealing with the brave new 32nd century we find the show in, it’s the rest of Discovery’s crew. The stark realisation of the world they’re in is there, as is the earnest belief that their faith in their ideals will connect with the dismayed and distanced people around them. They even crash upon arrival as well!

Star Trek: Discovery Boldly Returns to Remind Us of the Burden of Hope

When the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery chose to sacrifice their livelihoods in the 23rd century by catapulting themselves into the 32nd, they did so on the promise that they would themselves be hope: hope that a future would be there for them to arrive in the first place. But...

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The pair of episodes are like those couples who look and act eerily like each other, except one of them is a science officer and the other’s a starship with like, 100-ish people on it. That crash landing creates multiple problems that drive the episode to its eventual moral reckoning. Already badly damaged by being torn through time by Michael acting as a winged, screaming glowstick, a rough impact knocks out many of Discovery’s systems and embeds the ship in parasitic ice that rapidly starts spreading over the hull, threatening to make the ship’s landing permanent.

Image: CBS Image: CBS

In spite of this bumpy arrival — on a planet they discover is not their intended endpoint (Terralysium), the crew itself quickly gets to the task of sorting things out. Even Stamets basically gets up out of a coma and promptly starts crawling through jefferies tubes and whacking hydrospanners at things. It’s all very sweet and cute, and a reminder that within this tiny bubble of Starfleet, these people have not been fully changed by their choice to fling themselves into the future: they have their ship, they have each other, and they will do whatever they can to keep that. But there’s a lingering dread. We know that Starfleet spirit does not exist the way the Discovery crew assumes it does outside of their bulkheads in this century, as well as the rising pressure as Saru realises they’re going to need to engage with that future to get them out of this predicament sooner rather than later.

Taking Tilly with him to hopefully acquire some of the conveniently bountiful rubindium they need from the nearby settlement, Saru ventures out and finds, as Michael did, that not all is well in the 32nd century. Finding a bar in the settlement and being met at phaser point by its frazzled miner patrons, Saru and Tilly get a quick lay of the land: not only is Starfleet all but gone in this future, what’s left is cutthroat pockets of society where the disenfranchised are bullied by those with any scrap of power. But crucially, while in the new character of Book, Michael found someone innately tuned to her own kind of ideals to bond and share her faith of a rebuilt Federation with, Saru and Tilly find people who are completely broken, desperate for any kind of help. It’s help that the image of Starfleet could provide, even if it’s all but vanished at present.

Image: CBS Image: CBS

The locals of the settlement — known only as “The Colony” — have been targeted by a band of raiders and pirates lead by a man named Zaher, bullying them into sharing resources. Zaher promptly shows up to the bar having likewise detected a Starfleet vessel’s arrival, and what was a defusing situation rapidly becomes tense again. As tensions flare and phaser blasts fly, and even Georgiou shows up for the ride (because like hell she’d stay on the Discovery after being told to!), it feels like we’re about to get into a classic Star Trek conundrum. It’s one that Discovery itself has tackled to bleak effect before: presented with a harsh world of injustices, will our heroes put aside the ideals that make the utopia of the Federation what it is in order to survive? How far can they be willing to compromise, if even for a moment, when that moment is the difference between remaining true to yourself and your fellow officers or certain doom?

Unsurprisingly, Saru, Tilly, and Georgiou — proving a point to the distrusting locals — fight off Zaher and his men to remind them that a Starfleet officer’s word and aid can still mean something in a future where the Federation is all but gone. Saru’s faith in his friends and the organisation that means so much to him personally in turn inspires them to offer help, giving the Discovery the rubindium it needs to repair its systems, as well as a little faith that not everyone in the future is like Zaher. This likewise is an outcome that Discovery has dabbled in before, most notably in its first season when Saru led the bridge crew against Admiral Cornwell to say “well actually, being Starfleet means that doing a war crime is bad.”

Image: CBS Image: CBS

What makes this repeat actually work now, a season and a bit on, is that back then the moment felt laughably unearned. We had barely spent any time with characters beyond Michael in season one, so Saru and the crew coming together didn’t have an emotional weight that the moment needed to land as anything but trite. But most crucially, it happened at a time when we knew taking that “noble” stand was practically meaningless. As an original Trek prequel, we knew that Discovery wasn’t going to have an admiral stealth-nuke the core of the Klingon Homeworld, because there’s a whole bunch more Star Trek where Starfleet isn’t run by horrifying monsters to come after it. There were no stakes in Saru and the team going “We’re Starfleet, dammit!”, because, well, they were. We knew that already.

Here, in a future far beyond any Star Trek we’ve ever seen, taking that same stance actually has stakes. The unknown promise of the 32nd century means that these characters choosing to put their hopes in those ideals — sticking to them when knowing they’re all they have left in this quasi-Federationless status quo — suddenly has huge ramifications. Especially with Georgiou there to bear witness to the moment and act as almost a temptation for the idea that you have to do bad things to get a good outcome, because it’s a universe where everyone’s out for themselves. This time Saru and Tilly and the crew are actually having to put their money with their ethical mouths are. It takes a moment that in the past was unearned and clunky, and re-does it as something actually profound and beautiful.

Image: CBS Image: CBS

After Saru and Tilly have proven their point to Georgiou and the locals alike, and secured the supplies they need to repower Discovery, that moral argument about how these people will choose to be in this new future comes together in a perfect, final moment to cap “Far From Home” off. As the Discovery attempts to wrench itself out of an icy tomb, it finds itself lifted up by a powerful, unseen vessel: the ship’s shields and weapons are primed, and Saru has seen what has become of the desperate nature of the universe they now find themselves in for good. Rhys asks him the question: What will he do?

Saru chooses to talk, because, surrounded by his friends and his crew, his faith in their shared ideals has been reaffirmed in learning that they’re now all they have. Saru’s faith is rewarded when Michael herself answers the hail, finally reuniting with her friends after what has been an entire year for her.

With this and Michael’s own finding of a small pocket of the Federation-that-was in last week’s climax, hope being the great unifier is becoming a major theme of Discovery’s third season so far. But for all the parallels between this week’s events and lasts, this revelation of such a huge time disparity between the crew’s time in the 32nd Century and Michael’s is going to be an interesting difference to parse as they move ahead together.

Assorted Musings:

  • For a very brief moment, I thought that Detmer’s disassociation after the crash was implying that somehow part of Control had survived and taken over her implants, and reader, the brief existential scream I made even thinking about that was traumatic.
  • Forgive me if this was briefly brought up during the fight scene in the bar and I missed it, but why was Georgiou able to take so many shots from that phaser-shotgun-thing Zaher had when Kal died in a single hit from it?
  • Saru and Tilly’s conversation as they walked toward the new civilisation together was incredibly sweet. It feels weird to say it for a show that is three seasons deep, but I’m really excited for all the characters on the Discovery to actually like, start talking properly, and getting to know each other as friends. They’re all they’ve got left at this point!
  • I’m really glad that the Discovery and Michael have been reunited so...well, quickly for us, if not for them, textually speaking. As good as last week’s episode was at letting Sonequa Martin-Green just completely put this entire show on her own shoulders for a moment, I was dreading their separation kind of being the “wheeeeereeeee’s Spooooock????” of the season.
  • Speaking of, between that not being a thing and last week’s episode basically immediately answering “What is the Burn,” so far Discovery season three feels like a counterthesis to the prior season’s penchant for a big, seasonlong mystery. Sure, we don’t know why all the dilithium exploded in the first place, but it’s not being treated as the central driving question of the entire storyline as we progress so far — and that feels refreshing for a show that hasn’t been all-too-great at offering satisfying answers to big mysteries it set up so far. All this hope the crew and Michael have is rubbing off on me!