Star Trek: Discovery returns with S3E1 “That Hope Is You, Part 1” a rollicking roller coaster of an episode that jumps off exactly where Season 2 ended, with Commander Michael Burnham and the USS Discovery hurtling through time to nearly 1000 years in their future. Over the course of this premiere episode there are shipwrecks, disintegrations, explosions and devouring galore. We also get to watch Sonequa Martin Green masterfully play Burnham through an astonishing array of emotions, including super duper high. But before we get to that, we have to check in on Desmond in the hatch…no wait, by that I mean with a new character and his alarm parrot.
That new character we will learn at the end of the episode is Aditah Sahil (Adil Hussain), who has been awakened every day for 40 years by said alarm parrot in his lifelong search for some vestiges of the United Federation of Planets or Star Fleet to show up on his sensors. Over the course of the episode Michael and the viewers learn the circumstances of what has happened to the Federation and it sets the stakes for the season really well. This new future that the Discovery crew ensured by their actions at the end of Season 2 has its own issues. It is definitely good that all life in the universe hasn’t been destroyed, but somehow there was a major disaster everywhere involving dilithium—referred to as “the burn”—that destroyed almost all of Starfleet and eventually led to the Federation “fading away”.
Sahil is one of the true believers that the Federation can return and the galaxy be restored to its former glory. Despite the fact that he has lived nearly his entire life after the “burn” and isn’t actually a Starfleet officer, he lives his life as if he were one. This is some emotionally fertile ground for the show to build the season around and I’m glad that they set it up with both the cold open and the ending of this episode. In the real world right now there are a lot of challenges, a lot of major disasters both political and physiological, and the idea of the show mirroring those challenges while also rebuilding the ideas and ideals of the in-universe political structure is really compelling.
Over the course of the first two seasons the two biggest criticisms of Discovery have been: that they changed too much with the technology and production design, and that they made Starfleet too dark, cynical and corrupt. (Nevermind that if you watch half the episodes of TOS or TNG or three quarters of the episodes of DS9 you will see that has always been a large part of Starfleet’s ethos.) This dissolution of the Federation means that the show doesn’t have to contend with the issues that come up about the second issue. No matter how dark or wrong they may have been in certain decisions, or for some periods of time, the ideals of the Federation are well worth preserving and maintaining.
The most emotionally effective moment of “That Hope Is You, Part 1” for me was the encapsulation of that. At the end of the episode Sahil and Burnham meet and he is overjoyed to actually be in the presence, for the first time, of a Starfleet officer. Sahil asks Burnham to raise the Federation flag in his little observation room since it can only be done by a commissioned officer. Instead, she offers him a battlefield commission to be an officer himself and help her find the missing Discovery. They raise the flag together and it is legitimately moving.
By jumping into the future the show has also completely mitigated that first critique. All of the technology, no matter how advanced fans think it is compared to how tech of the pre-TOS era “should” look, is now completely outdated. This gives the production design team free reign to use the full array of tools and tricks they have available. (Though I personally loved the way the team behind the show was able to do a mix of old and new throughout the first two seasons.) The technology is new and innovative and doesn’t need to be constrained in any way by what the audience thinks is possible. Though the complete destruction of Starfleet also gives them the ability to work with a darker, grungier, ethos. There is definitely a Star Wars feel to many of the set pieces but it doesn’t seem forced.
The other new major character introduced in this episode is also a part of that. There is certainly a Han Solo feel to Cleveland “Book” Booker, especially at first. David Ajala plays the character with a definitive roguish charm and he has instant and undeniable chemistry with Martin-Green. It seemed that he was being set up to be an anti-hero for a while and eventually “see the light” due to his burgeoning love for Burnham, or some similar trite cliché. Instead the show went in a completely different direction, and a more interesting one. It turns out that Book is already a true believer too, in animal rights.
When he is introduced early in the episode Book is on the run, trying to avoid another “runner” that he stole cargo from. The audience is led to believe throughout that he is smuggling something dangerous for his own nefarious reasons, as Quark would say, presumably to turn a profit. When the big reveal comes that he is actually doing everything he can to protect endangered animal species, it gives the character a dramatic turn and automatically shines new interesting light on all of his actions throughout the episode. He isn’t really a smuggler at all—his contraband is actually living creatures and he is a radical conservationist. Or perhaps a great positive eco-terrorist. Either way, with his emotional connection to space worms and his love for his giant chonky cat, Grudge, he has quite quickly won my heart.
And it seems he is also already winning Burnham’s heart too. After Burnham is injured during their escape from Andoiran and Orion(ian?) space gangsters, Book does some sort of chant and grows a healing water plant for her wound. As she is applying the balm she gives him a really assessing look for the first time (to be fair to Burnham this is the first time he has been shirtless, so it is probably the best time for such an assessment) and she gets a very interested look on her face, just for a moment. I’m not normally a big fan of these immediate, plot driven, romantic subplots but after the terrible luck Burnham has had romantically on the show so far, I’m rooting for these kids. I just want to see Burnham have a little joy.
Or sadness, or a large dose of truth serum, or basically anything that gives Sonequa Martin-Green a chance to show off her talents. She has been the absolute best thing about Discovery since the beginning but often they have her playing some sort of “stoic determination” or “angry determination”. Those modes of Burnham are both effective, and definitely the primary way the character interacts with the world, but it doesn’t allow Martin-Green to show the full range of her talents. This script by Michelle Paradise, Jenny Lumet, and Alex Kurtzman went entirely the opposite direction. For this one episode Burnham is basically all emotion, all the time, and the entire show is better for it.
Especially when Book double crosses her and she is captured and dosed with truth serum which causes Burnham to get really really high and allows Martin-Green to play a giddy and babbly version of the character that is legitimately appealing. Throughout S3E1 there are beats where Burnham is sad, overwhelmed, or as mentioned above, aroused. All of which gives us a real sense of insight into how Burnham is dealing with this new world that is probably going to be her new reality. And then at the end when she and Book meet with Suhil she gets to go right back to her default mode of stoic determination, and the journey back there feels earned.
There is even an intensity to the quiet scenes and the entire episode is gorgeously shot, though there were definitely also some pretty jarring edits and shaky cam shots during the action scenes. Overall the direction by Olatunde Osunsami seemed to mirror the chaos and unsettled feeling that Burnham had to be feeling after being cast into such unfamiliar circumstances. It worked in context but, as always with this style, I hope it is used in a very limited manner going forward. Osunsami was really great at bringing out the fun and excitement of the characters though. And every interaction had a really great pacing and tone, especially the interactions between the three central characters.
It also seems really important that none of those central characters were generic white people. Star Trek has always been a franchise that tries to push the envelope on diversity and social issues, sometimes doing it well and other times not so well, but even with that context it was just refreshing and important to think about the representation on display. Representation that also wasn’t commented on within the action itself. It is important, and vital, for us that the lead is a Black woman and that the new characters are a Black man and a person of Indian descent. Diversity is also essential behind the camera and with a Black director and two female writers the show was also working well on that front with this episode. It all felt very “Trek” and very nice as we try to make our world represent the one we want to see.
This was a great start to the third season, I only wish that both “That Hope is You, Part 1” and Part 2 had been released so we could already watch them both. Presumably Part 2 will catch up with the rest of the Discovery crew, all of whom I am really ready to see again. Everything so far has worked really well. With all that said though, it is a little difficult not to think, “why didn’t the show start here?” Certainly we would have needed to be introduced to Burnham’s character before following her into a situation like this one, but the show could definitely have benefited from the fresh start provided by the nearly 1000 year jump ahead from the timeline of previous Star Trek. And yet, Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman had some very specific ideas in mind when they created the show and the stories they have told have actually been really compelling if you don’t get pulled away by random issues with the details.
All I know is, I like the ride and I am ready to stand with Michael Burnham and jump back on.