It’s been a wild few weeks on Star Trek: Discovery. The Federation has been found, our hero has tried to figure out whether she wants a new life or her old one, and after a few quorum conventions, she’s been allowed to have both. But in examining one side of Michael Burnham’s happy new normal, the show returns to an idea that it had pondered at the start of this season: the power of a shared hope.
Much of the tone of “Sanctuary” is convivial. Gone is the underlying tension brought about by Michael’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) existential crisis, her inability to quite so keenly gel with her Starfleet friends after she’d found a new life with Book (David Ajala) in the 32nd century — no lingering qualms between her and Saru, none of the distress that emerged between her and Tilly. The Discovery has settled into her place as the Federation’s vanguard in this future, concerned little by the stresses it faces being embattled on increasingly dwindling fronts. Everyone’s just…kind of excited to be doing Star Trek things again.
It’s probably for the best that this is a relatively clean slate as we further progress into the back half of the season though. It allows us to push aside some of the dramatic awkwardness that came in these past few episodes and move back onto a larger picture, free from the specific drama’s of Michael’s centered life in the series. By focusing on an episode that is more about Michael and Book, it manages to re-focus on an idea that played a fundamental role in the establishment of their relationship together all the way back in the season premiere: the idea of burdening oneself with the hopes of the many, and how there can be a profound joy in sharing that hope with others.
It’s a twofold realisation for Book, when — still adjusting to his own new normal of living aboard the Discovery (or rather, aboard his own ship aboard the Discovery) — he is contacted by his homeworld, Kwejian. More specifically, his estranged brother (not by blood, but bond), Kyheem (Ache Hernandez). Book hasn’t seen him in years after a disagreement over how Kyheem cut a deal with the Orion-lead Emerald Chain crime syndicate, providing a chemical repellent that helped the world keep a crops-destroying sea locust at bay in exchange for Kyheem hunting transworms for the Chain. Deciding that Book’s desire to help his home could help the Federation provide a diplomatic front to push back against the pirate syndicate’s power in regions it’s had to pull back from, Admiral Vance sends the Discovery on an important mission: go to Kwejian, act as diplomatic oversight while the world re-negotiates with the Chain, and, for the love of god, don’t fire on any of the syndicate’s ships and prompt a war.
Some of that goes to plan, at least! We’ll get to the explode-y parts later.
Returning to Kwejian has some interesting dynamics for Book to explore, not just the chance to show Michael where he came from — which he wants to do out of a sincere love for his world and for her — but the potential, as wary as he is, to patch things up with Kyheem. Michael helps alleviate his despondence, but when they arrive on Kwejian they find that things aren’t going to be as easy as they think. It’s immediately a source of drama by having a Federation vessel show up in Kwejian’s orbit, especially with Osyraa, the Chain’s leader (Janet Kidder), also orbiting the planet as she continues to negotiate tithes with the Kwejian. Kyheem immediately has Book and Michael rounded up and brought before him, and the brothers just cannot communicate past their hurt: Book’s disappointment and anger that his brother fell in with the Chain, Kyheem’s own frustration that Book (which we learn was a name he took for himself) abandoned him and their home, leaving him to burden the stress of managing their people through devastating famines.
Kyheem, it seems, has brokered a deal with Book and the Federation’s arrival though — wanting to use his brother’s knowing desire to help Kwejian to instead get the Discovery to hand over the Andorian that Book and Michael helped liberate from a Chain salvage world a few episodes ago, Ryn (a returning Noah Averbach-Katz), to Osyraa. Which, naturally, doesn’t go down well with Book, who begins to see his brother as an increasingly lost cause, unable to see the grim, terrible situation that Kyheem has had to burden for the sake of the people around him. Tensions rise on the ground and in orbit, where Osyraa starts bullying both the Discovery and Kyheem by orbitally bombarding Kwejian’s defence shields. With some vital information from Ryn, this prompts Saru to override Vance’s decision to be diplomatic (though technically indirectly), and instead do the right thing by disabling Osyraa’s weapon systems — the tension between the brothers becomes similarly explosive on the ground. Literally, in that Michael and Book, attempting to find a spot in the network weak enough they can beam out, and metaphorically, as Kyheem and his cohorts catch up to them, leading to a full-on fist-fight between brothers.
It takes Michael getting between them for Kyheem and Book to realise their bond with each other (as brothers, and, more importantly, as empaths) and to see what’s going on in orbit. Working with Osyraa is a fool’s endeavour, given that she’s currently attempting to tear Kwejian to shreds even with Kyheem’s compliance. But the Federation, explicitly when it didn’t have to, has come to the world’s aid, offering protection from her tyranny and the opportunity to help save the world from its food crisis. It’s a twofold realisation for Kyheem and Book alike — that there is hope for a better alternative out there after the hurt caused by the Burn, that there is hope that things can change, and people, distanced by physical space or past traumas, can be brought together again. Additionally, the people involved are willing to aid out of the kindness of their hearts, and not because there is an opportunity to exploit. In realising that, the two are finally in a place to commune with each other empathically, using their psychic abilities (with a sort of power boost from the Discovery) to talk to the sea locusts and, after years of forcing them back through conflict, realising that simply asking them to return to their home and leave Kwejian’s people be was enough to end years of hurt.
What’s even better than the day being saved (and Detmer getting to pilot Book’s ship like she’s the Millennium Falcon racing in at the end of A New Hope to disable Osyraa’s guns) is that, although Michael intervenes and gives Book and Kyheem the chance to talk, it’s Book himself who delivers this lesson to his brother: a lesson he had learned from Michael when he first met her. It’s a simple message, one Star Trek has always hold dear, the idea of mutual co-operation and faith in a bright future, but it’s made incredibly powerful in seeing it, over the course of this season, progress out through people over time. It resonates even further as Book re-iterates it to Michael in his decision to stay with her aboard the Discovery, in the hopes that the Federation can thrive.
After a few weeks of Discovery falling on old habits, choosing to return to that message of shared hope that started this season off so strongly gives hope that as we enter its endgame — and conflict with the Emerald Chain becomes increasingly hotter — that it’s an ideal that Discovery will hold onto.
- I know it’s passé to mock when Star Trek goes particularly actiony, but man, the whole sequence with Detmer and Ryn using Book’s ship just going ham against Osyraa was fun as hell. Not just because of the action, but because Detmer got to enjoy herself so much! And the little celebration in the mess hall with the bridge crew after! More of this, more of this please Discovery!
- Also delightful: Saru testing out what can be his Captain catchphrase. Just earnest, silly little moments among this crew have me longing that the show spent more time doing it. I do feel like Saru can do better than “Execute!” though.
- We also get a bit of an update on Georgiou’s situation this episode, which… seems not great! After Culber does a scan of her that makes her body freak out like it’s a Winamp equaliser animation, the long story short is that her brain is breaking down, but no one’s really sure why. However, Georgiou, for all her sniping, seems just as desperate to find out.
- We also get an update on the search for the Burn’s origin, which reveals that it coming from a distorted signal in a nebula that has transcended being the Burn’s trigger, but somehow the shared melody that has become lullabies and pieces of music across space. But also: it’s actually a distorted Federation distress signal? So who’s calling it, why, and how did it start the Burn? Or was it an attempted warning? We’ve reached the “so many questions” phase of the series arc, but I like that it’s mostly happening in the background, rather than being the driving plot of episodes.
- I still have a few qualms about how Discovery chose to handle Adira and Grey’s relationship given its history with Stamets and Culber and the dreaded “bury your gays” trope (before, y’know, mushrooms made the latter get better), but the scene this episode where Adira (Blu del Barrio) reveals their pronouns to Stamets was pitch-perfect. No real fuss made, outside of Adira’s anxiety, no real celebration: Stamets just looks happy that they’re sharing this, immediately switches, and nothing is said of it. The same for Culber in the closing moments of the episode, picking up on Stamets’ lead without a word and switching himself. It’s understandable that Adira themself treats it as a potentially stressful thing, it’s an important decision for them. But in Star Trek’s future? Everyone’s used to it, it’s totally normal, and everyone just accepts it and goes on. That’s the good stuff, Discovery.