Rolling right in from the wild climax of last week’s episode, “There Is a Tide...” is mostly about resolving the problem that is right at the tippy-top of Discovery’s long list of Problems to Solve in Two Episodes Or Less. Osyraa, the coldhearted ruler of the Emerald Chain, has hijacked the Discovery, detained its crew, and is using the ship as a trojan horse to get her way into Starfleet HQ.
After finding a very convenient courier transport network to blaze along, Michael and Book find themselves hot on Osyraa and the Discovery’s heels—rather literally, slamming Book’s ship into the Discovery hangar bay just as Osyraa’s deception nets her safe passage into Starfleet’s shield network—the mission is set. Michael has to stop Osyraa before she can unleash her nefarious plans on Federation HQ, wrestle back control of Discovery, and free her friends from captivity.
Oh, and get back to her slowly irradiating colleagues back in the Verubin Nebula. You know, the folks trapped on a planet made of Dilithium with a traumatized Kelpien who maybe probably started The Burn. All in a day’s work (across three episodes) for Michael Burnham! Putting the sheer enormity of the stakes Michael has to deal with aside—for once, this is not her taking these burdens on her own, at least—the episode is once again a case of Discovery, just as it did last week, marrying its high-octane final-episode grandeur with a spin on a very familiar Star Trek episode archetype: the base under siege. Star Trek shows have long mined the idea of invading our hero’s personal spaces.
Trek ships get threatened all the time, take part in big space battles, but there is something intimate and violating about enemy forces being inside them. We’ve witnessed them in the iconic The Next Generation episode “Starship Mine”—where Picard has to almost single-handedly stop pirates from seizing the Enterprise—the Borg attack in First Contact, the Bajoran invasion and Dominion occupation of Deep Space Nine, and Voyager’s run-ins with the Kazon and the Hirogen in “Basics” or “The Killing Game.” There is always something heightened and fearsome about these moments in the way that an intense ship-to-ship battle never really can be: they’re violations of an almost sacred, idealized space. These are more than just the workplaces of our heroes, but their homes, where they hang out with each other and eat and relax between exploring the galaxy. The interior of a Starfleet vessel is a tiny, personal slice of the Federation’s idealized utopia, seeing it breached by something so against those ideals is always dramatic and grand.
The Discovery, a character in and of itself between the Sphere Data’s personality and its huge importance to the show’s worldbuilding and narrative—a ship that in three seasons has gone through as much as any of Trek’s most iconic vessels did in entire runs—is made vulnerable by Osyraa’s attack in a way that is fascinating. But it’s also a vulnerability that gives way to a moment of extreme catharsis. With Tilly, the bridge crew, and eventually Booker under armed guard while Stamets’ mind is probed by Osyraa’s chief scientist, Invigilator Aurelio (Kenneth Mitchell, who now returns sans-makeup having played Klingons Kol, Kol-Sha, and Tenavik in Discovery’s first two seasons) we finally get to see something Discovery has long struggled with.
The crew actually get to do something. More specifically, break free, kick-ass, and beat up Emerald Chain guards.
That is, after Osyraa, in a bid for clemency, trades Vance the rest of the crew. The action is delightful enough, but what makes it so electric is that, at long last, we get to see this team working together and in unison, in the spotlight. Discovery’s core orbit around a handful of characters has always left us longing for Rhys, Bryce, Owo, Detmer, and the rest of the staff on the Bridge to get more screen time. They have finally started to in bits and pieces over the course of the season, but there is something immensely satisfying in seeing them step up to the occasion here—to combat the grave threat that Discovery’s capture represents. This is their ship, and no amount of Emerald Chain goons can take it from them. Toss in the fact that Tilly, having been given the conn at the inadvertently best-worst time last episode by Saru, has put her game face on and is leading them like the Captain she’ll one day surely be, and you’ve the set up for one hell of a final episode of the season.
Like “Su’Kal” before it, “There Is a Tide” is a lot of set up for what’s no doubt to come in next week’s final episode. But it also shares the thematic ideal of marrying a classic Star Trek story idea with Discovery’s desire for grand, explosive stake-making in a manner the show has often struggled to make fit until now. And once again, it’s down to the heart at the actual matter of it all, in seeing characters we’ve long wished could get the spotlight, step up to the plate.
That’s not even everything that actually went on! Some of the most potentially fascinating stakes are laid out beyond the action of Michael and Team Tilly trying to take back their starship: Vance and Osyraa playing the game of statecraft. While Discovery sits outside Federation HQ and the duo are relatively unaware of the, uh, situation aboard, Osyraa makes a bold gambit. She’s not here to just blast Starfleet Command and cackle maniacally, Osyraa wants the Chain and the Federation to unite into one, singular entity, in peace, not violent conquest. She is, according to Starfleet’s unnervingly human lie-detector tech, not engaging in subterfuge. She has a treaty ready to go and considered the political mind games of finding diplomatic leaders within the Chain’s hierarchy to act as the eventual keepers of this deal. It’s a surprising twist, as a beleaguered Federation battens down for a scrap to end all scraps, that it’s our villain who seemingly extends an Olive branch. A tempting one at that, one which would play into the themes of connection and unity that have run throughout this season.
But there’s still one episode of the season to go, of course. As fascinating as this potential window into a future where the Federation is not so staunchly repellent of potential allies like the Chain in a time of interstellar crisis—imagine if this kind of unification had been found after Deep Space Nine’s Dominion War!—there’s also the lingering doubt that Osyraa is up to something more than this. Was she really so desperate for peace if she’s been making moves across Federation space to lure the Discovery out, get its Spore Drive, and see what makes it tick? Has she figured some way to deceive the Federation’s lie-detection technology to offer Vance everything he could’ve dreamed of?
We’ll find out. That is, if Captain Tilly and her phaser-packing bridge crew give the Chain a chance to tell us.
- I’m sorry, I’m still not quite over dual-phaser-wielding Tilly at the end of this episode just looking extremely ready for her day to be over. She better get to use those in the finale.
- Kenneth Mitchell returning out of Klingon make up to play a wheelchair-using character has a special, heartfelt significance here: the actor was diagnosed with ALS in 2018 and began using a wheelchair himself last year before publicly revealing his diagnosis in early 2020. Seeing Discovery not make special note of Aurelio using a chair himself, given its very fleeting previous attempts to incorporate disabled actors into the series, was good to see, on top of bringing back Mitchell in the first place.
- Part of what makes Osyraa’s “real” plan so interesting here is we get painted a very fleeting picture that there’s more to the Emerald Chain than simple piracy—that there is a political structure, other figures akin to Osyraa, and diplomatic intent. It makes sense, given their apparent reach across the post-Burn galaxy that there was more to it, but still, nice to see it confirmed.
- You knew something was coming with the Sphere Data/Discovery Computer A.I. the second it came up that there was weird code and old-timey Earth movies that couldn’t be deleted in the Chain’s sweep of ship systems, but it’s very cute to put the Data in the repair DOT-7 drones. It’s their ship too, let them protect it!
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