S3E2 of Star Trek: Discovery, “Far From Home” concludes the two part opening to the new season by letting us know the fate of the Discovery and finally getting the team back together. Like the season premiere, “That Hope Is You, Part 1,” S3E2 has to cover a lot of ground really quickly and, unlike the previous episode, there are a whole bunch of characters with whom we need to catch up. (There is no consensus as to why Episode 2 isn’t titled “That Hope Is You, Part 2” but it certainly seems to function as the second part of an interconnected season premiere. Hopefully at some point the creative team will explain the title choices.) This leads to the entire experience being much more disjointed and less compelling. But this broader focus does do a great job of allowing the spotlight to hit each of the main cast members for a bit. While each character has limited screen time, each of the major cast members is given a moment to shine. By the end, the viewer is reminded of the very best and most compelling aspects of each of these people and why we want to follow them to the ends of the universe.
The bulk of the episode focuses on Commander Saru (Doug Jones) and Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman) as they visit a bar, meet some sad and put upon locals, and negotiate with a tyrannical, despotic, gangster. The plot is very “classic Star Trek” though the setting definitely also gives off a bit of a The Mandalorian feel. This bar is literally a space saloon, complete with the iconic, though mostly fictional, wooden swinging half doors. (Apparently these are actually called “cafe doors” or “batwing doors”—the modern age of the internet can sometimes still bring joy.) The entire plotline is filled with classic Western tropes as well. We are greeted by the naive farm boys, the outlaw gang, and at the center of it all, the black hat rustler taking the resources of the locals for his own personal gain. By being the emissaries to the entire future Saru and Tilly have a very fine line to walk, and it allows the viewer to get a fuller sense of what each of them will be like in the new normal.
The spectacular change in Saru since his evolution is still a marvel to watch. Doug Jones is a masterful physical actor and he conveys so much through use of his posture and small touches like the way his arms sway as he walks. The facial prosthetics are a wonder, allowing Jones to be at least as expressive as a standard actor not wearing a days worth of makeup on his face, and possibly more so. After grappling with his new evolutionary state back in S2E6 “The Sound of Thunder” Saru now exudes a nobility and a confidence that really makes it obvious why the crew would respect and follow him. The charge he gets in his voice when giving orders is surreal to compare to the overwhelmed and anxiety driven character we first met in the dark old days of Season 1. Saru is the commanding officer of the Discovery now and everything from his voice, to his demeanor, to the speed of his decisions, is colored by this fact. This is best shown by his instantaneous and unflinching decision to take Tilly as his emissary on this particular mission.
Tilly has also grown and changed considerably over the course of the series. Though her many tics and insecurities remain on display. She is nervous and easily frustrated, a bit naïve about the villainous nature of the world and just a bit awkward whenever she has to speak to strangers. Mary Wiseman also plays each of those ticks in a charming way that can make you feel connected to the character even at her weirdest excesses. But each of these potential issues have been shown to be a small part of the bigger picture of Ensign Sylvia Tilly. In this instance, as in so many others, the trust Saru puts in Tilly is well founded, as it is her empathy, honesty, and ability to connect to people that ultimately wins them their friends in this new and dangerous world.
Once Saru and Tilly venture out of the Discovery and attempt to make contact with the locals they venture into the aforementioned saloon and meet three members of the alien race that inhabits the planet. These locals are Coridanites and they are the miners who work this planet for their meager living. And in the manner of almost every Star Trek interaction with a set of these local people, they are in desperate need of assistance. But even more than that, they need hope. “Far From Home” explicitly ties together with “That Hope is You, Part 1” in this respect. With “the burn” destroying so much of the dilithium in the galaxy and with the Federation gone and Starfleet virtually nonexistent, that hope is going to have to come from our Discovery crew, The locals have been looking for some reason to believe that life would change, especially noble, doomed, true believer, Kal.
Kal is the one who buys into Tilly’s argument for why they should barter with the Discovery away team. And it is Kal who bonds with Tilly over the course of the episode. He also easily uses programmable matter to repair the broken communications turret that Saru and Tilly brought with them. It seems that the ship is hopelessly out of date and Kal is just about to get more details on that when the villain shows up and blows him away.
The villain of the week, Zareh (Jake Weber), is pretty sufficiently scary and his murder of Kal does raise the stakes somewhat for his dealings with Saru and Tilly, even though we know nothing will happen to them at this point in the season. Weber plays the character quietly, with more of a reservation than a villain of the sort is usually given. On first viewing I thought this made the character less compelling, but as some time has passed the world weariness of Zareh plays better than the menace. Of course, due to the questionable decisions of the main characters Zareh is still out there at the end of the episode. The Coridanites may have insisted he be exiled to the murderous darkness of the planet at night but that seems unlikely to actually be a death sentence.
While Saru and Tilly play their parts in the Western motif pretty well, Commander Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is the true outlaw. She is the one who, as usual, brings the most excitement, danger, and complexity to the proceedings. Georgiou and Saru have issues from the moment the ship crashes. His practical but methodical approach is at complete odds with her mirror universe propensity for violence. And she is made even more formidable with her Section 31 cultivated official rank and position. So of course she would be the one to arrive at the saloon at the last minute to save the day. Which also allows the show to showcase Michelle Yeoh’s impeccable fighting once again. Georgiou, by using her considerable skills to defeat Zareh and his henchmen and allow Saru and Tilly to escape capture, got to get a few points in on her behalf.
But in the end even she deferred to Saru’s new authority and they let the bad guy go. Though only after killing all of Zareh’s henchmen. I know it is often the case in these types of shows that the main villain “means more” than the underlings. But something about the scripting, staging, and timing of all of it really bothered me this time. I don’t feel like the Discovery crew should consider what they did to be moral in any way. I also think letting Zareh go was a bad idea. He has a lot of skill and connections to the outside world. And the Discovery isn’t exactly the top of the line ship in this distant future.
The technological state of both the galaxy in this new future and the crew’s role in it all seem to be major themes for the rest of the season, but as of right now it is a bit unclear just how far behind the ship really is. “The burn” definitely caused some technological regression, and the Discovery is probably among the best ships still extant for things like long distance flying, but the rest of the technology has progressed 1000 years from what the crew knows. I definitely desire that they take some time to seriously grapple with what this can mean for the crew. S3E1 starts down that road, and the conversations Saru and Tilly have in S3E2 about how they don’t feel like they belong and the world not feeling “right” are certainly good moves, but I hope they decide to really lean into the ideas and make some interesting commentary out of them.
The rest of the crew remained on the ship while Saru and Tilly had their adventures, and we spend most of the time back there with Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) who together form the emotional center and the source of much of the humor for Star Trek: Discovery. The interaction between Stamets and Culber continues to be among the most real and honest depictions of a relationship on television. I’ve never been certain whether they brought back Culber after killing him off because of fan backlash or if it was always the plan, but either way the history that the two of them have had to endure makes each loving moment that much more resonant. In this episode when Stamets wakes up from the coma he was put into at the end of last season and he and Culber kiss, we get one such moment.
But even that loving moment isn’t overly treacly because Paul Stamets remains the prickliest of the many prickly scientists in Trek history. He then proceeds to try to fix the ship, which is certainly in character and which also leads to my favorite part of the episode: Stamets and Reno trading barbs while Stamets nearly bleeds to death.
Tig Notaro continues to delight as she delivers every line with a spectacular mix of sass of humanity. The performance really makes the character scream off the screen every single time she appears. And in the scenes with Rapp’s sarcastic responses as fodder, Notaro just eats up every second making the scenes some of the best on the show so far. With Reno and Stamets both injured, cranky, and still absolutely dedicated to their jobs these few scenes really build a rapport and investment in the characters.
By the time Culber joins in to tell Stamets he has to survive “So I can kill you,” the entire proceeding has delivered an amazing amount of comedic joy. It is also noteworthy that these three are LGBTQIA+ characters played by dedicated and passionate real life LGBTQIA+ individuals. It is in these characters getting the spotlight they deserve, and these actors getting platforms to push for justice, that Discovery does the absolute best service to the ideals that were behind the creation of Star Trek in the first place.
Despite this being S3E2, the rest of the bridge crew remain as underserved as ever. It is understandable that there isn’t really time to devote to most of these characters as the seasons are about half the length of a classic Star Trek series season but it still seems like a missed opportunity that there isn’t greater effort made to make them feel more vital to the series. We still know almost nothing about Lt. Bryce (Ronnie Rowe Jr.) and many of the others. Though, to be fair, in Season 1 Lt. Detmer definitely fell into this category and she seems to have finally come into her own as a character. Now Lieutenant Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) is responsible for saving the ship, again, with her barrel roll maneuver. But she spends the rest of the episode dealing with some seeming symptoms of post traumatic stress. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any resolution to Detmer’s issues in “Far From Home” but I do hope we get more information on what is happening with her.
The same is true for Lt. Owosekun (Olin Oladejo). “New Eden” last season at least gave us some needed background and insight into her character, but since then she has been right back to having very little focus in any of the episodes. Most of the interactions we see of Owo and Detmer are the two of them giving each other funny looks on the bridge whenever something weird starts happening. In “Far From Home” Owo had a bunch of these looks as reactions to and off of Detmer’s deterioration. These moments are really essential, building the feeling of camaraderie that is needed for the crew of starship and though Discovery has done a better job recently of adding these moments in, the more of them that we can get, the better.
In the end, we learn that a year has passed for Commander Burnham from the end of the previous episode to the end of “Far From Home.” With the time jump, Burnham has far more information about the universe. All of which being information that the Discovery crew (and the viewer) does not have. I really think they would have been better served to make the gap even larger. Two to five years would have been a more interesting choice. Burnham could have used these years to become a part of this new timeline. This could lead to greater tension with the crew. As it is though, the one year gap is still enough time to create some interesting story possibilities. There are a million possibilities for the show from this point. And I remain excited to see where things are going.