Star Trek: Discovery reached its destination.
After four episodes of searching, the U.S.S. Discovery found Federation Headquarters. At least as it exists in the 32nd century. The fifth episode of Star Trek: Discovery season three, titled “Die Trying,” opens with Discovery docking at the hidden Federation Headquarters. At first, their arrival seems hopeful and their reception warm. But, as with most things in Star Trek, things are not quite as they seem.
The Discovery arrives at Federation Headquarters in awe of a thousand years’ worth of advancement. Inside a small displacement field is the entirety of Starfleet and the Federation civilian government (representing 38 remaining planets out of a peak of 350). And Discovery finds that it is, by its mere presence, breaking the law.
Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) informs Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Saru that time travel is a touchy subject in the 3100s. Starfleet’s top objective is to preserve the Temporal Accords, ensuring that no one, from the past, present or future, does anything to alter the timeline.
Discovery is set to be gutted and retrofitted and the crew reassigned. Saru wants to follow Starfleet’s directive, but Burnham wants a chance to prove the Discovery and her crew need each other and can better serve the modern Federation together. The opportunity presents itself with a trio of aliens suffering an unusual plague. Burnham proposes to lead the Discovery on a jump to retrieve a potential antidote from a derelict ship that houses seeds from the plague’s planet of origin.
In the process, Commander Nahn (Rachael Ancheril) gets an opportunity to reconnect with her native people. But separate from the mission, Nahn has an emotional connective tissue to the ship’s missing inhabitants. Despite the thousand-year gap.
Meanwhile, back at Federation Headquarters, a Starfleet operative named Kovich (David Cronenberg – no, seriously!) takes a keen interest in Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh).
Sonequa Martin-Green and the writers are just dead-set against letting me like Michael Burnham. It’s a subject to tackle in more depth in analyzing the writing of “Die Trying.” But Star Trek: Discovery continues to push Burnham as the voice of reason and idealism on the ship. And Green’s continual embrace of playing Burnham as a hothead in the style of J.J. Abrams Trek just makes it worse.
Martin-Green’s portrayal of Burnham early in the season was one thing. It was Burnham searching for a way into a new life. Then Burnham searching for a new place in her old life. In “Die Trying,” Burnham is back to being a fully-formed Starfleet wunderkind. Always right about everything. Never possessing an incorrect instinct. Martin-Green has a tough challenge, because Burnham has been a sloppily-written character from the get-go.
The actress has to run the gamut of human emotional states in the course of 55 minutes every single week. And in ‘Die Trying,’ Martin-Green feels like she’s just resigned to the fact that Burnham has no definable center in Star Trek: Discovery.
There’s some great interplay between Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Reno (Tig Notaro). Honestly, Rapp and Notaro have such great chemistry together, I’d be all for the next Star Trek spinoff being a sitcom about them getting a space apartment together. They play off of one another beautifully. And their dysfunctional relationship serves a narrative purpose, too.
But the star of this episode is Wilson Cruz. He finally gets to play Dr. Culber as a character unto himself. Instead of “Stamets’s boyfriend.” Culber plays a big role in “Die Trying.” For all intents and purposes, he’s the moral center. And Cruz pulls it off brilliantly.
Writing And Directing
Sloppy characterization of Burnham aside, “Die Trying” is another solid episode in the Star Trek tradition. It’s another Star Trek: Discovery episode full of moral and ethical dilemmas. And it’s done while moving the longform narrative.
The Discovery herself has to find her place in an uncertain future. Again. Go figure. They bounced universes, fought interstellar wars, and jumped a thousand years into the future. But the ship and crew still have to prove themselves. That in isolation gives Star Trek: Discovery something special. An inborn reason to strive for the Roddenberry ideal.
Writer Sean Cochran concocts a story with real sci-fi weight. A strong balance between the modern norm of longform TV storytelling and the episodic format Star Trek fans have longed for. We never lose sight of the long-term questions. What was the Burn? Does the Federation know more than it’s letting on? And seriously, was that David Cronenberg?
The direction from Maja Vrvilo is exquisite. Vrvilo walks well the same tight rope as the writers. We don’t linger too long in any one story, but the pacing and subtlety in the directing tells our brains which elements are more important than the others. And it does so without numbing action that earns Discovery some scorn from Star Trek diehards. The visuals of this episode are stunning. And the voyage through Federation Headquarters is littered with Easter eggs.
Star Trek: Discovery is sure of its new course. The writers, producers and cast are free from 54 years of continuity. And free to follow their own path. The Star Trek universe is big. Continuity tends to collapse on itself in big franchises. Ask DC Comics. Well, what’s left of it.
And there’s a meta element to season five. The U.S.S. Discovery has to prove that she belongs in its world. And the series has to prove it belongs in the same canon as classic Trek. But if Star Trek: Discovery can keep cranking out episodes like “Die Trying?” They won’t need to keep proving that for long.
It’ll be a certainty.
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery stream Thursdays on CBS All Access.
All images courtesy of startrek.com.
'Star Trek: Discovery' - Die Trying
- Another solid, complicated 'Trek' narrative
- A wonderfully balanced script
- More top-notch direction
- The most interesting visuals the show has featured to date
- The writers and actor still can't let Burnham get out of her own way
- Seriously, was that really David Cronenberg?