First Officer Tilly on 'Star Trek: Discovery'
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Star Trek: Discovery continues to delve into the seedy underbelly of the Trek universe.

While previous Star Trek incarnations dealt with criminals and syndicates, the new Trek generation takes it to another level. And I haven’t decided if that’s good or bad. The most off-putting episode of Star Trek: Picard took a grim and gory look at the underworld of the galaxy.

But Discovery seems intent on making story, not spectacle, out of Trek‘s criminal element. Star Trek: Discovery Season Three rolls on with “The Sanctuary.”

Osyraa, leader of the Emerald Chain on 'Star Trek: Discovery'

The Plot

Book (David Ajala) finds out that the Emerald Chain – the largest crime syndicate in the galaxy – is readying to lay waste to his home world. After years of leaving Book’s people alone, the Chain’s Orion leader, Osyraa (Janet Kidder), has taken personal interest in the planet. With the Chain having made life difficult for the Federation for years, Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) dispatches the Discovery. Book and Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) beam to the surface to find out what Osyraa is after and how to stop her.

Back on the ship, Captain Saru (Doug Jones) deals with the Andorian Ryn (Noah Averbach-Katz). Osyraa wants the former prisoner returned. Saru pledges to protect Ryn, provided he helps Lt. Detmer (Emily Coutts) use Book’s ship in hopes of disarming the Emerald Chain flagship.

Stamets (Anthony Rapp) reaches a possible milestone in finding the origin of the Burn. He needs Adira (Blu Del Barrio) and her connection to a mysterious song that’s been spreading throughout the galaxy. And in the middle of it all, Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) tries to find out what’s going on with Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), who seems to be suffering a mental and, well, dimensional breakdown.

Basically, there’s a lot going on in this week’s Star Trek: Discovery.

Burnham surrenders on 'Star Trek: Discovery'

The Performances

Make sure you’re sitting for this one. Burnham doesn’t break down crying in this one. Still with me? Then get ready for this. Burnham isn’t at the center of this week’s Star Trek: Discovery. As with the more successful episodes this season, she’s just the window to a better story. In this case, a window to the drama between Book and his people. People that view Book as having traded his familial connection to them for allegiance to the Federation. Which means “The Sanctuary” is a chance for Book to strut his stuff.

Star Trek: Discovery has never had an episode with bad acting. It’s had overacting. More than its share. But what’s Star Trek without some good old-fashioned hammy acting?

Particularly from the guest stars. Kidder goes a little over-the-top, but she never veers into Bond villain territory. She’s dangerous, but she doesn’t need the flamboyance of the aforementioned Picard episode to get that across. And Averbach-Katz plays Ryn with the right combination of hot-headedness and sheer cowardice. They’re two things that shouldn’t go together at all. And with a lesser actor, it could’ve dragged the episode down. Averbach-Katz makes it work, and he makes it work extremely well.

I’ve mentioned earlier this season, but I’m really loving that Cruz is getting more material to work with. Material that doesn’t involve him just being “Stamets’s boyfriend.” Cruz has the edge of Dr. McCoy and the sure, steady hand of Dr. Crusher. Throw in the smarts and charm of Deep Space Nine‘s Dr. Bashir, and we might just have my favorite Star Trek doctor ever.

And I’m loving the slow-burn unraveling of Georgiou. Yeoh plays a character who knows she’s losing it. But she’ll be damned if she admits it to anyone else. Let alone herself.

Book and Burnham captured on 'Star Trek: Discovery'

Writing And Directing

Jonathan Frakes is back in the director’s chair for this episode of Star Trek: Discovery. And he definitely does a better job than he did the last time around.

There’s a lot to balance in “The Sanctuary.” Action on the surface, a wicked space battle, and interdimensional warlords suffering existential crises. Frakes commands a visual style that connects all the disparate elements together. With editing that keeps the story moving and never allows all of the plot points to weigh the episode down. It’s probably the best-paced episode of the season. And for a season as strong as this one of Star Trek: Discovery, that’s no small task.

As for the script, writers Kenneth Lin and Brandon A. Schultz dodged a quantum torpedo with this one. The performances and the direction are what make it work. If either the actors or Frakes had faltered, there’s a pretty good chance “The Sanctuary” would have collapsed in on itself. There are interesting ideas here. Among them the central plight that Book has to help his people solve. It goes beyond Osyraa looking to oppress the planet. There’s a natural disaster at work. The Star Trek-ish element of the episode. It very nearly got buried by the action stuff. Only in the last five minutes or so did it become relevant to the episode.

Star Trek: Discovery has bounced back this season, balancing the action that’s defined New Trek with the elements that make Star Trek, well, Star Trek. A little push one way or the other, and “The Sanctuary” wouldn’t be the success it is.

Dr. Culber tries to help Georgiou in sickbay on 'Star Trek: Discovery'

The Breakdown

Well, we didn’t take a total deep dive into unexplored areas of the Star Trek universe. Just dipped our toe in the water.

But “The Sanctuary” is a good example of how Star Trek: Discovery has finally learned to combine “sci-fi problem of the week” with serialized storytelling and action schlock. We’re more than halfway through Season Three. And, for a change, Star Trek: Discovery isn’t racing toward the finish. Desperate to wrap everything up in a couple of hours.

I like where this show is going. It’s a bold, exciting narrative. Not exactly where no one has gone before. But I like where it’s going.

New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery stream on CBS All Access on Thursdays.

All images courtesy of startrek.com.

'Star Trek: Discovery' - The Sanctuary

8.7

Acting

9.0/10

Writing

7.8/10

Directing

9.2/10

Entertainment Value

8.8/10

Pros

  • Jonathan Frakes does a Number One-level job with direction.
  • Burnham isn't at the center of everything.
  • Wilson Cruz gets another chance to shine.
  • The Georgiou mystery is getting more interesting.

Cons

  • One slip by the director or the cast, and this episode would've been torpedoed.
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