STAR TREK: DISCOVERY
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND PLANTS RUN AMUCK ….
If you ever wanted a Star Trek episode, no matter the series, and you’re likely well aware their number is legion, or soon to be at least, that absolutely, perfectly and completely encapsulates how this most idealistic of franchises makes you feel, then “Die Trying”, the fifth episode of the third season of Star Trek: Discovery is the one.
It is, quite simply, optimism and hope wrapped up with a bright and shiny space distorting ribbon, an episode so packed with expectation that everything is not only going to come up roses but Barzan and Kelpian too (it’s a Federation in joke that only the story can reveal) that you can’t help but stare out the window in wonder too just like Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Reno (Tig Notaro) do when the crew of Discovery, now with added Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) as Number 1 finally find where the Federation has been hiding ever since the Burn struck it a near mortal flow.
Yes, my friends, Discovery has fulfilled its one-way future-travelling mission by tracking down the Federation where they will do amazing things and practise peace on Earth, or well, the galaxy really, and goodwill to all men, women and aliens.
Well, that’s the heady intent anyway, demonstrated in a wondrous scene where the ship pushes, with permission (The Federation, such as it is, knows they’re coming, thanks to Adira Tal, played by Blu del Barrio), through the distortion field, the better to hide from the Emerald Chain (not a band but a criminal syndicate of Andorrians and Orions), and witness the advanced surviving joy of the Federation and Starfleet in one hidden-away safe place.
It is gloriously inspiring, helped along by the grandiose, heart-tugging strains of the main Star Trek theme, as the crew, glad to be “home” after so long in the wilderness, gaze in awe and thrilled wonder at the ships before them with detached nacelles and names that honour past characters from franchises such as Deep Space Nine.
How can you not smile when you see their transcendent joy?
It is like watching kids at Christmas discover that not only is Santa real but he’s there to give them presents and purpose and hope and a reason to live and all the things they have been missing for quite some time now.
It is, quite simply, one of the most delightful things you will see on TV this year, and it can’t help but give you goosebumps and be happy and inspired for these people, 930 years from their actual home and time, who feel like they have finally found somewhere that means something to them and which will make all their sacrifices worthwhile.
That is until, of course, reality intervenes and Admiral Charles Vance (Oded Fehr) and Lt. Audrey Willa (Vanessa Jackson) rain on the crew’s homecoming (of sorts) parade, smash the floats and declare that not only are the team onboard the Discovery criminals for time travelling – it’s a no-no in the 30th Century where the Temporal Accords rule out jetting back and forth in time – but that they will be split up and sent off to do things far away from each other.
Yup, not quite the reception they were expecting, but while Captain Saru (Doug Jones) is all “yes sir, no sir, three bags of dilithium full sir!”, Burnham gives a little more attitude than protocol allows, which is as you might expect, precisely none, and demands they be kept together to do unspecified great and noble things.
Like, for instance, since they are, in fact, a scientific vessel, find a cure for a disease which is ravaging a group of Kili refugees.
Vance is having none of it, and sets about making Saru and Burnham feel like criminals (well, there was all that timey-wimey stuff; sorry to steal the word Doctor Who but it’s a great way to describe it), grilling the crew to make sure their story matches the official spun told by the captain and his first officer – the highlight is the interview of Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) who is all Terran-level snarly with her interviewer Kovich (David Cronenberg is the mother of all guest-starring roles) until he drops a bombshell on her than unnerves in a way we don’t usually see) – and making them feel distinctly unwelcome … until Burnham and Saru, but mostly Burnham come up with some intel on the Kili epidemic that involves, mutated plants on the planet Urna, a Federation seed ship full of pristine samples that might a cure make and a Spore Drive that will get them there in no time flat.
Vance isn’t thrilled but caves and sends the crew of the Discovery, with Saru behind as a hostage (it’s all very ancient Chinese empire tribute regime of him) and Lt. Willa onboard, to get to the USS Tikhov, get the seeds and find a cure in no time flat. (Clearly these are the people we need working on a Covid vaccine!).
What follows is a grand but heartbreaking mission that fulfills its purpose but gives the episode a chance to tell one of those stories that Star Trek executes so well where good things happens (seeds and potential cures are found on a ship deftly pulled from an ion storm) but bad things too such as the death of the lead scientist’s family, Dr Attis (Jake Epstein), a Barzan like Commander Nahn (Rachael Nancheril), who decides to stay behind to keep him company on the ship of which he is the current custodian (Federation member plants, now numbering just 38, take it in turns to safeguard the biological riches of the Tikhov).
It’s inspiring and heartrendingly sad all at once; in other words, a perfect Star Trek episode, one made all the richer by the evoking of what it means to be a member of Starfleet but also, and this matters to the crew of Discovery in deeply profound ways, to have a home again, one that may be 930 years out of their time but has the real possibility, threats aside, of giving them a sense of belonging they have long craved.
“Die Trying”is the standout episode of the season so far, inspiring, joy-inducing, sobering and painful and sad all at once, full of adventure and thoughtful rumination and expectation, and evidence, if any was needed, that Discovery is in the midst of a purple patch at the moment, one in which hope is not just a nice airy-fairy idea but something concrete and real with the real possibility of further amazing episodic stories ahead.
SPOILERS AHEAD … AND EGGS YOU CAN’T EAT AND FEISTY CHOWDER YOU CAN …
In a short and sharp episode this week, in which the Razor Crest limps into a port on the moon of Trask, parts flying everywhere and graceful, non-watery landings not even on the agenda, The Mandalorian proved that just because people look like you, doesn’t mean they are you.
Or that any sense of kindredness is anything more than helmet and armour deep.
You have to feel sorry for Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) who, while he is safely able to deliver Frog Lady (Misty Rosas) and her eggs to her husband, Frog Man (John Cameron) – their reunion is a joy and a delight and one of the highlights of this action-packed episode – and get some babysitting of the Child thrown in for good measure, finds himself more than a little used by his fellow Mandalorians who, it turns, are not quite as, ahem, religious, as he is.
In fact, the three Mandalorians, Bo-Katan Kryze (Katee Sackhoff !!), Koska Reeves (Mercedes Varnado) and Axe Woves (Simon Kassianides) – who rescue him, and the Child who’s been swallowed into the belly of a cephalopod beast in the ship’s hold – from a thieving band of a Quarren crew of fishermen/pirates supposedly helping him to get where he needs to go are not the kin he was expecting to meet.
For one thing, they remove their helmets – yup, we see their faces! Oh the horror and the shame!; Din is not well please, not one bit as this heretical act – and for another, they accuse the Watch, the group of Mandalorians of which he is a part, of being an extremist cult, something that doesn’t go down well with the boy-turned-man rescued by these cultists who assumes every Mandalorian is just like him.
They are not, as it turns out.
In fact, vowing and declaring that will get enough weapons, ships and resources to take back their home planet from the Empire who stole it from them when they refused to bow down to the dark side of the Force, they are everything the Watch is not.
Which to be fair may not necessarily be a bad thing.
For noble and full of integrity as he is, and Din is nothing if not the very exemplar of what an upstanding, do-gooding citizen of the galaxy should be (he gave up everything for the Child, after all which counts for a helluva lot), he is also a bit of drank too much Kool-Aid, culty stick in the mud.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that the Bo-Katan Kryze, who you will know from The Clone Wars as the non-bowing down to Emperor Palpatine deposed Regent of Mandalor, is all good and squeaky clean and worthy of a medal and several parades, but she is at least prepared to do what needs to be done to get back to where she believes she deserves to be.
As noted, however, that doesn’t make her a good person and frankly she ends up being a too pragmatic for Din’s liking.
Saying she will give him the name of a Jedi who may know where to take the Child – turns out this is Ahsoka Tano (The Clone Wars once again) in the city of Calodan on the forest planet of Corvus – if he helps steal the cargo from an Imperial freighter (they’re still around and yes, the stormtroopers still can’t shoot for shit), Bo-Katan turns out a little bit too duplicitous for good, upstanding Din who may be a little too set in his ways but is ultimately, a Very Good Guy.
A small quick mission to rob some stuff from people who shouldn’t have it in the first place quickly becomes something a whole lot more complicated than that, a mission which proves successful for the Mandalorians but which proves once again that Din is a walking target for every semi-abusive person in the galaxy.
You have to feel sorry for the guy – everyone attempts to take advantage of him and while no one really succeeds, save for the shoddy Mon Calamarian mechanic at the space port who barely makes the Razor Crest spaceworthy, Din is constantly having to battle people who think they have his mark.
They do not, and they never will have his mark, but watching them try like Bo-Katan does, provides for some entertaining storytelling, even if all the overall arc got tonight in the way of advancement was one more clue in a long and winding puzzle.
While not the strongest episode to date, “The Heiress” was nonetheless a lot of fun, giving us a rip-roaring spaceship heist, some amusing moments with the Child and an octopus from his chowder determined to eat him and not the other way around, and some more touristing of another part of the ever-expansive Star Wars galaxy, with Trask proving to be all kinds of fascinating nineteenth-century British seaport lawlessness.
One other interesting tidbit of the episode was Bo-Katan’s quest to find the Darksaber, created by the first Mandalorian to become a Jedi and now in the possession of Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), a weapon she believes will cement her hold on power should she ever ascend to the throne on Mandalor.
That facet of the plot bodes well for the ongoing narrative health and storyline expansiveness of The Mandalorian which is managing, even in the slightest of episodes (though, as noted, still enormously entertaining), to move the overall story arc forward while giving some great character moments, tantalising nods to Star Wars lore, and the promise of bigger and more impressive battles to come.