Star Trek: Discovery S3E12, “There is Tide…” is all about the season-long arcs of the Federation’s dissolution and Osyraa’s manipulation of everyone, with both points seen through the unique lens of Burnham’s passion. There is no real resolution to any of the plot points this week—at the end of the episode everyone is pretty much in the same place they were at the end of “Su’Kal”—but the journey was exciting and the entire experience felt like Discovery Season 3 getting back on track.
Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) may not always be the perfect character for the plots the writers decide to give her. But for S3E12 she is basically playing John McClane for an episode and that is the perfect role for her. Early on, she and Book (David Ajala) get back onto the Discovery by crashing Book’s ship into the docking bay just as the shields are lowered. From that point on, Burnham is wandering around the ship as a rogue agent, taking out Osyraa’s crew members (who are called “Regulators”), crawling through Jefferies tubes, and causing havoc.
The Die Hard references are plentiful, and have to be intentional, as she winds up having to “stitch up” a leg wound, she communicates to the others over coms from the “bowels of the building”, and she even has to hobble around barefoot. Martin-Green is perfect in the homage too, with just a bit of a twinkle in her eye as she taunts Osyraa and the others and creates death traps for her would-be captors.
Osyraa (Janet Kidder) finally got the character development and explanation for her motivations that we have needed all season. It seems that she has thoughts other than just being evil after all. (Though as Stamets said, “she is also that.”) With the revelation of her plan, very detailed and officially designed, to make the Emerald Chain a part of the Federation it turns out that she has goals something beyond her own needs and whims.
She actually understands the “warlord” style life that she and others in the Emerald Chain have been living is not sustainable and that, in order to achieve her goals, she needs to have respectability. Kidder also does some really nice work portraying all of this, she doesn’t overplay the act and make it seem like Osyraa is insincere, but she also plays some real great moments of subtle deception that make it all in keeping with what we know about the character.
It is pretty obvious that her motivations still aren’t pure. She is once again manipulating everything to her advantage. But as Admiral Vance (Oded Fahr) and the holographic lie detector Eli (Brendan Beiser) both learn from the negotiations, she is at least serious about the idea. I liked how Vance was characterized during all of this. Often earlier in the season it seemed he was being positioned as one of the classic “out of touch Admirals” that abound in Trek. It turns out that Vance is both smarter and more practical than that. He quickly, though not quickly enough, realizes that Osyraa has control of Discovery.
Vance also actually engages with Osyraa during the negotiations, but he also lets her know his real reservations with the entire endeavor. And he informs his security team to be wary of the Regulators and to engage in violence with them if it becomes necessary. And he actually considers the treaty but doesn’t acquiesce to it. Instead he turns the tables back on Osyraa and puts her in the spot of having to accept real consequences if she really wants to do this. Since Osyraa then learns that the Discovery team and Burnham have started their uprising and she turns back to her old murderous ways, we don’t get to see if she would have agreed to this. But it definitely looked for just a moment like she was considering it, which was a pivotal moment for making the character more than just a monster.
Aurellio (Kenneth Mitchell), the master scientist who is part of Osyraa’s crew, provided some nice nuance as well. His love and respect for Osyraa, despite her despotism, actually seemed well played. He is presented as a pretty reasonable character, not entirely aware of Osyraa’s atrocities, but not blind to them either. He definitely seemed to believe the things he told a captive Stamets (Anthony Rapp) about the great good that Osyraa and the Emerald Chain have done in the Galaxy as it has become more and more desperate and separated.
But he also did have a spark of recognition at the consequences of all of this that Stamets tried to get through to him. And this spark of disillusion only seemed to grow as Aurellio watched Osyraa come back on the ship and try to regain control in a vicious way. The look of betrayal was palpable as he watched her murder Ryn (Noah Averbach-Katz) for his role in letting Tilly and the others escape.
The introduction of Aurellio also adds to the record of diversity that Star Trek:Discovery has excelled at over its run, and particularly this season. Mitchell has played several characters on both Discovery and Lower Decks but this is his first live-action human character and the character was developed after Mitchell’s real life ALS diagnosis. Aurellio has an impassioned discussion with a captive Stamets about what it is like to live with and work through a major life changing experience like this, and it has a real feeling of vitality and reality when you understand the circumstances.
Things are set up for Aurellio to turn on Osyraa in the finale, which is definitely the predictable route, but that is also the best storytelling. It seems we have an obsession with the idea of originality, or the notion that if something is predictable that it is bad and if it is unpredictable then it is good. This isn’t the actual issue. The impulse that leads to this is one for a story with stakes and emotional resonance, and sure, one way to lack those things is to tell a rote story that we have all heard before. But the fix isn’t to tell a story that is so original it doesn’t make sense.
The fix is instead, telling the story with passion and making us care. So, I desperately hope that Discovery doesn’t decide to be “unpredictable” and avoid this development. They should lean into it. Make us care even more about Aurellio, have him fulfill his destiny of turning on Osyraa and likely die in the process. Even when it is exactly the most predictable outcome, the structure of the story has to develop from the characters and the circumstances.
Another fully predictable aspect of S3E12 was the return of Zareh (Jake Webber). When he was exiled to the frozen tundra back in “Far From Home” it was obvious that it was only a matter of time before he returned to cause some more issues, particularly for Tilly, who he seemed to target from the start. He does seem changed a bit by the experiences of that episode though; he is a little less arrogant and less likely to underestimate his opponents.
But he is still the same character, and he is now personally invested in the idea of punishing these people who beat him once before. So, as the story goes, he is set up for a fall. The look on his face when he sees one of his Regulators floating frozen in space after failing to capture Burnham says it all. There is a bit of pain and loss and a lot more rage, but most of all it seems that Zareh is tired. Tired of people fighting back and tired of Osyraa giving orders. And also tired of Tilly.
Osyraa had locked Tilly and the bridge crew in the Ready Room at the end of “Su’Kal” so of course a major plot of S3E12 revolves around them staging their escape. Early on in “There is a Tide…” Zareh looks in on them and berates Tilly for losing the ship so fast and not actually being a real Captain. Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) does not take such a slight lightly. The whole crew have a wonderful chemistry and rapport that, while we rarely get to actually see it, is well established in the show.
They eventually drive their captors crazy with “secret communication” in Morse Code. (Book to Rhys: “What were you saying with the tapping?” Rhys: “Keep tapping.”) This leads to a fight in which the unarmed Owo, Rhys, Brice, and Detmer take out their armed guards in about 10 seconds in a great little scene that highlights all of them. Tilly then takes charge again, with the leadership role really showing once again. She may have lost the ship, but this is her plan and her crew and she is going to get it back.
Despite spending the entire episode tied up or knocked out, Stamets (Anthony Rapp) got great scenes with both Aurellio and Burnham. With Aurellio, Stamets appealed to the man’s sense of familial devotion. He talked about the love he has for Culber, and for Adira, whom in a lovely gesture that was nice to be made explicit, he considers to be his own child. Stamets seems to be making some progress, but Aurellio is unconvinced when Burnham busts in and rescues him.
Once he wakes up, he tries to get Burnham to go with him to save Culber and the others and it is a beautiful emotional moment. Stamets tries to get Burnham to understand how important it is to him to save his family but Burnham won’t do it. Then Stamets hits her where it hurts. All of them came to the future for her, so she wouldn’t be alone, and now she won’t save them? It is harsh but believable and well acted by Rapp. Then Burnham shoots him out of the ship to be rescued by Starfleet, far away from the Spore Drive and any chance to rescue the others. Then Burnham cries. It is a great scene.
It was a great move to focus all of the action this week on the plight of the Discovery and the crew members dealing with Osyraa and to leave the business with Su’Kal, the burn, and Culber, Adira, and Saru for next week. Doing this allowed the action to have a great kinetic pace, and the cuts were only to stories that had a direct impact on other events of this episode. The script by Kenneth Lin gave great weight to all the main plots. Burnham doing the Die Hard thing connected directly to Tilly leading the bridge crew’s attempt to escape from the Regulators, and both plots were woven together with, Osyraa and Admiral Vance negotiating.
All of this clear scripting is overseen by Jonathan Frakes back in the director’s chair. Frakes seems to have an innate understanding of what it takes to make a Star Trek script work. His direction is light on the cinematic style touches that some other directors love to use in Discovery. Instead, Frakes focuses on the pacing and giving the audience a clear understanding of what is happening. This is always to the immense benefit of the show.
The season finale is set to be a fascinating experience with lots of threads still up in the air. How did Su’Kal cause the burn, and will he Culber, Adira, and Saru be saved in time? I’m going to go on the record with, unshockingly, yes they will. Will the bridge crew retake Discovery? Again, certainly they will, though I think that there may be some real difficulties or tragedy for one of them. Also, I think it would be great if Tilly got to take out Zareh with her bare hands. And of course, there is the entire idea of the alliance with the Emerald Chain and the rebuilding of the Federation. I also think the answer there is “yes, both parties will sign the treaty” but only if Osyraa is completely moved from the occasion.
All in all, it was a great setup to the finale. Even though I felt it could have used more Grudge and was missing the fantastic Jett Reno (Tig Nataro) entirely. But we did get the D-23 bots, complete with the Spore Drive data, coming out to save the day with some more Buster Keaton.