Talk with the sea locusts, walk with the sea locusts: Star Trek: Discovery “The Sanctuary”

Previously: We learned about the Emerald Chain, the Orion-Andorian alliance led by this season’s supposed big bad Osyraa. The Andorian named Ryn tried to revolt against Osyraa, so she cut off his antennae, but luckily, Book and Burnham saved him from a life of hard labor. There’s Something Wrong With Detmer, There’s Something Else Wrong With Georgiou, Tilly became Saru’s Number One, and Burnham got data from the Vulcans and Romulans that could finally allow her to determine the Burn’s point of origin.

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Once again, we’ve got another boring one-off adventure on our hands here, featuring characters and a planet we’ve never seen before, while details about the big overarching mysteries are teased out as slowly as possible. I sense a running theme this season.

Hey, at least there’s no pretentious voiceover intro this week. Instead, we open on Georgiou speaking directly to the camera and being her usual faux-evil self. We pull back and find out she’s actually in Dr. Culber’s office, refusing to talk about What’s Wrong With Her. She knows that Culber thinks of himself as the savior of the crew, and the “Oracle of the Mess Hall”, which I like, but she has no interest in talking to him about her problems.

Culber warns her that her mental condition is only going to deteriorate. He says it’ll start out with little things, like asking herself “What was I just doing? Where did I bury that last body?” but soon Georgiou won’t even be able to recognize herself. Finally, she relents, and Culber says he wants to get her “baselines”, which this show loves to talk about, and then do an “atomic scan” on her. Cut to Burnham looking on for some reason as Culber examines Georgiou. Culber says her “heart rate is elevated” and Georgiou responds, “It’s rage.” I like that too. I wonder how my doc will react if I say that the next time she takes my blood pressure?

Burnham heads into a corridor and finds Book, who says he has to return to his home planet of “Kwejian”. His brother sent a message through the courier network that there’s some trouble with Osyraa and the Emerald Chain. Burnham says Kwejian is two weeks away at warp, and there’s a 50/50 chance of his ship surviving a trip through a “transwarp tunnel”. Whoa, hang on, they have transwarp conduits now? Like what the Borg had? Like what Admiral Janeway used to shave 60-70 years off Voyager’s journey home? And they’re all worried about dilithium supplies why, again?

But Book says he has to go there, because the Emerald Chain is about to destroy his home planet. So they bring this information to Admiral Vance. And you’d think Vance would remember this Book character as being involved the last time Burnham flagrantly defied Starfleet orders, but it seems he’s more than happy to sit and listen to how the Emerald Chain has victimized his planet.

And how are they oppressing Kwejian? Well, see if you can keep up with this, because it sounds like something one of the writers came up with while seriously high. He says that when the Burn hit, “damage to subspace shifted our moon’s orbit,” and I’m already confused. Subspace disturbances can change celestial orbits now?

Regardless, this caused “tidal changes” on Kwejian, and then “sea locusts” came out of the oceans and decimated their crops, and the people were starving. And along came the Emerald Chain, promising to solve all their problems. They gave his people a “repellant” that sent the sea locusts back into the ocean—like what, were they all standing around spraying big cans of Sea Locust Raid?—but in exchange, the people of his planet had to give up their trance worms, i.e., those giant slugs that hypnotize you before eating you. So I suppose that explains the season premiere, where Book was transporting a trance worm to “Sanctuary Four”, though I don’t think it was ever mentioned in the episode that that was his home planet.

And now Osyraa is returning to Kwejian to cause unspecified trouble. Is she going to take back all their cans of Sea Locust Raid? I have no idea, but Book has to get back there immediately.

Vance says that unfortunately, there are 50 star systems in the same predicament with the Emerald Chain. He doesn’t have ships to spare for a mission like this, and he doesn’t want to risk Discovery starting an interstellar war with the Chain. So Saru suggests they go there under the “technical designation of observers”, and say their goal is to “pursue a more diplomatic approach”. Vance agrees, but tells them to jump away at the slightest hint of danger.

But before they get there, we return to the salvage planet of Hunhau for the stock “villain proves her evilness by killing a lackey” scene, with bonus evil points if the lackey is a relative. In this case, we revisit the bad guy of a couple of episodes ago, Tolar, who’s Osyraa’s nephew. He’s profusely apologizing for allowing all the prisoners to escape and letting the prison camp be destroyed.

And then Osyraa finally reveals herself, and I don’t know if she’s supposed to be intimidating or what, but she just looks the Wicked Witch of the West minus the crooked nose. Osyraa is played by Janet Kidder, who certainly looks and sounds like her aunt, the late Margot Kidder. I learned about the family connection from an interview that also explains why the Orion makeup looks so weird this season: Instead of just making up the actors with green body paint, they created green prosthetics that get applied to their faces. So that’s why the Orion makeup looks so plastic-y this season: it is plastic.

Osyraa’s not that bothered by the loss of the prison camp; what’s really got her gourd is that he let Ryn the Andorian escape. And with that, she beams her nephew into a cage where he gets attacked by a trance worm. He gets swallowed whole, limbs go flying, and so ends the short, sad life of Tolor.

On Discovery, Saru and Tilly are in the corridor, and apparently being first officer means she’s now his personal assistant, because she’s talking about how Ryn wants to speak to him, and Linus the Saurian has been confined to quarters until his “annual shed is complete”. Then she gets to the important part: it seems Saru is actually focus-testing different catchphrases for when he gives an order. You know, like when Picard said, “Make it so”, or Pike said, “Hit it”? He wants something like that, and I’m sorry, did I switch over to an episode of Lower Decks by mistake?

Tilly says she and the crew brainstormed a few options: “Execute”, “Hit it”, and “Manifest”. Saru points out “hit it” was Pike’s thing, but she says maybe he could make it his own. Then she brings up how Stamets has finished analyzing the data they got from the Vulcans and Romulans last week, and they should go check it out, and Saru gives her a weak, “Hit it, then,” and Tilly lets out a disappointed groan. Why does he even need a post-order catchphrase? I don’t recall Kirk or Sisko or Janeway or Archer having one. They just gave the order and people did it.

They step into Engineering, and Stamets has created a huge hologram of the Burn’s point of origin. He says it’s the “Verubin Nebula”, and in fact, there’s a signal coming from inside the nebula, and it’s clearly being sent by someone. Adira says it’s in the “audio range”, and boy, 32nd Century technology must be pretty advanced to pick up audio signals across the vacuum of space.

At first, it sounds like noise, but then Adira does some technobabble to the signal, and now it sounds like music. In fact, it’s the same melody everyone’s been hearing: it’s the tune Adira has been playing on the cello, and the lullaby the Barzan dad was singing to his kids a few episodes ago. Saru stares at the audio wavelength, with the camera zooming in on his eyes and ears, presumably highlighting his keen vision and hearing, even though those haven’t been mentioned since season one.

Saru has them “isolate the original signal” and play it “without the distortion”. No idea what any of this means, but the result is what sounds like the Federation distress signal. So presumably, a Federation ship is in the nebula sending out the signal, and Saru says the distress call must contain some encoded information. It must? How much data does this audio signal have in it, anyway? There’s music, a distress call, encoded information, maybe some bonus video content; it’s like someone is beaming an interactive CD-ROM into space.

Stamets then proudly says that Adira is good with this stuff, and “she” can write an algorithm to decode it in a few hours. After Saru and Tilly leave, Adira says, “I’m ‘they’. Not ‘she’.” Adira informs Stamets they’ve never felt like a “her”, so their preferred pronouns are “they” and “them” from now on. Adira says nobody else knows this, and Stamets just smiles and says okay, and that’s that. Well, we knew this was coming when they announced non-binary actor Blu del Barrio would be playing a non-binary character. I’m just relieved they didn’t come up with some lame sci-fi way to explain it, like Adira having all these Trill personalities inside them was making them not identify with either gender.

Book and Burnham are heading to the bridge, and they’re wearing their usual planetary beam-down wardrobe of dark robes and scarves and frayed t-shirts. Burnham says she never knew Book had a brother, but he says “brother” is just what they called each other years ago. But when “Kyheem” started helping the Emerald Chain hunt down trance worms, Book turned his back on him. He’s only traveling to Kweijan for the sake of his homeworld, and couldn’t care less what happens to his brother.

On the bridge, Owo wonders why Detmer has changed her navigation interface, and Detmer snaps back that she needs a “fail-safe!” So I guess Something Is Still Wrong With Her. Saru calls for a Black Alert, then declares, “Execute!” Everyone just stares at him, but I guess they eventually figure it out, because we cut to the Discovery spore-jumping to Kwejian.

Book looks upon his planet on the viewscreen with emotion, and Burnham holds his hand. But then they detect a big warship approaching, and Book already knows it’s Osyraa and her ship, the Viridian. And “viridian” is a shade of blue-green—get it? Because the Emerald Chain is an alliance of Andorians and Orions.

In Sickbay, Georgiou shows up for her atomic scan in a tight white bodysuit, and god bless Michelle Yeoh for still being able to wear something like this at 58 years of age. Culber and Dr. Pollard start to prepare her for the scan, while Georgiou complains about having to dress up like a “human spermatozoan”. Thankfully, Pollard knocks her out so they can start the scan.

Meanwhile, Adira is playing the cello, and I thought they were in their quarters, but I guess not, because Stamets randomly appears and he’s sitting at a piano. Adira says “Kasha” is the one who learned to play the cello, and that got passed down to Adira. They also break the news that their boyfriend Gray’s force ghost is no longer appearing. Adira feels he’s still here, but he’s “hiding” from them. Stamets suggests that even force ghosts might need some alone time. To cheer Adira up, Stamets starts playing piano and he duets with Adira on the cello.

Okay, who on the ship plays the HARP? Just when I thought Harry Kim and his clarinet was the height of music geek loserdom.

In Saru’s ready room, Ryn barges in asking to speak to the captain. Tilly tells him to try that again, “This time with the respect the rank deserves.” And have I mentioned that the actor playing Ryn (Noah Averbach-Katz) is married to the actress playing Tilly (Mary Wiseman)? This feels more like they thought it would be funny to see Wiseman put hubby in his place.

Ryn really doesn’t want to be on this ship, because he distrusts the Federation, and he wants to beam down to the planet. They say he’s free to go, but they warn him that Osyraa is on her way here, which seems to change his mind. He also learns that Book and Burnham have beamed down, and they’re in some part of the planet where sensors can’t track them. Where are they going? What are they looking for? Who knows.

Book and Burnham are walking through a forest, and Book welcomes her to the “Sanctuary”, but I think she was already here in the premiere, or at least some place called “Sanctuary Four”. Or was that place supposed to be some sort of… Kwejianian colony? (Look, Adira’s pronoun thing is already sapping my mental energy; don’t make me try to figure out the correct demonym, too.) Puffy glowing blue insects float around, and Book says these are the sea locusts. The empathic symbols on his forehead light up as he communicates with them to clear a path. Burnham wonders why he can’t just tell all the sea locusts to go back into the sea, but there are far too many of them.

Before they can continue their nature walk, Book tells her to put her hands up, and some menacing goons pop out from behind trees with guns. Out steps a guy with a thick Cuban accent who welcomes “Tareckx”, a name Book says he no longer goes by. Okay, if your name is “Tareckx”, I can see wanting to change it… but to “Cleveland”? Anyway, this is clearly his brother Kyheem, and he orders his men to take them both away.

In Sickbay, Georgiou is having another episode where she flashes back to the Terran Empire logo, and a Terran dagger. A digitally de-aged Michelle Yeoh touches the wound on a man’s chest, and looks at all the blood on her hand. In the real world, her face gets digitally distorted like she’s a malfunctioning hologram. She finally wakes up screaming, “Saaaaaan!” Culber asks what she just experienced, but she refuses to talk and storms out, and she palms some medical sensor on her way out.

Book and Burnham have been taken to Kyheem’s swanky abode, and Book wonders if he got these lovely accommodations from helping the Emerald Chain. Kyheem tells them to leave the planet, because they don’t need the Federation’s help. But he does have one demand: Osyraa wants the “criminal” Ryn turned over to her. However, Book refuses to return Ryn to slavery. Kyheem gets angry and raises a fist, and his forehead lights up, so I guess these lights come on both when they’re being empathic and when they’re angry? It’s like forehead mood lighting.

Eventually, the Viridian arrives. Osyraa hails Discovery and they put her up on their new-fangled “programmable matter” viewscreen, which frankly looks worse than the holographic communicators they used 900 years ago. The lines across her face plus the green skin make her look like the artwork on money.

Saru attempts his “diplomatic observers” cover story, which Osyraa doesn’t buy for a second. She cuts to the chase, saying she knows they’re harboring a wanted criminal named Ryn. She tells them to hand him over so he can fulfill his lifelong contract, but Saru notes that contract sounds a lot like slavery and refuses. She warns that unless they hand Ryn over, she’s going to wipe out their friends down on the surface. The Viridian immediately drops into the atmosphere with its weapons charging.

Down on the planet, Kyheem gets a holographic call from Osyraa. She asks if he’s made any progress on getting Ryn, but thanks to Book, Kyheem is no longer sure that’s such a good idea. So Osyraa threatens to plunge his planet back into famine, and Kyheem’s “child” will starve. He doesn’t budge, so Osyraa starts firing on the surface of the planet with photon torpedoes. Book and Burnham see explosions outside, so they make a run for it, and… they just leave Kyheem’s house? What about all those armed guards? They weren’t watching the two of them?

On Discovery, they bring Ryn to bridge to let him know Osyraa is about to destroy an entire planet just to get to him, but he refuses to say why Osyraa wants him. It’s looking like Discovery has no choice but to open fire on the Viridian, despite what they promised Admiral Vance.

Meanwhile, Georgiou takes her purloined medical sensor and sticks it on some console and looks at her medical file. She then hears Saru call for a Red Alert, and she immediately cries out, “Michael!” But before she can leave to do… whatever… to help Michael, Culber corners her and says he knew he’d find her here. Georgiou says she saw what’s in her file: “I’m dying.” Thankfully, Culber is here to undercut the bombshell moment with, “It’s not that cut and dry!”

On the bridge, they can’t locate Book and Burnham, but Ryn says he knows where they are, and he’s willing to help for Book’s sake. “I owe him.” Didn’t Ryn already take a laser blast in the chest for Book? I’d say they’re about even at this point, but okay, whatever, TV dialogue 101, he “owes him”. But they can’t attack Osyraa’s ship directly, because that would be seen as an act of war. So Tilly suggests they use a non-Federation ship (i.e., Book’s ship) piloted by a crewmember who they can say later was disobeying orders and “going rogue”, otherwise known as “pulling a Burnham”.

A moment later, Book’s ship ejects from the shuttlebay, and “rogue pilot” Detmer is flying it with Ryn at her side. She’s strafing the Viridian with weapons fire, and in the middle of this, Book’s cat Grudge jumps into Ryn’s lap, causing the expected hilarity.

Shields are soon down to 10%, not that it matters. Ryn is terrified and tells Detmer to abort, but she’s determined to deal with this threat. She says, “I have the right copilot. If you face something, you can beat it.” Ryn says he’s with her, and she responds that this is a good thing, because “I’m about to do something that might get us both killed!” She calls for “full manual control” and two Oculus controllers materialize on the console.

Well, at least this might age a bit better than the Microsoft Flight Simulator joystick Riker called up in Insurrection.

Down on the planet, Book looks up and sees his ship fighting the Viridian. And then Kyheem’s goons appear, using guns to shoot (poison? tranquilizer?) darts at Book and Burnham, so I guess Kyheem has decided to help Osyraa after all. They fight back and incapacitate all of Kyheem’s goons, and then Kyheem himself jumps out of nowhere and brawls with Book. Kyheem pulls out a knife and is about to cut Book’s throat, but Burnham ends things by putting a gun to his head. Book takes the gun away and hands it to his brother as a show of peace. Is Kyheem about to shoot his brother? Nope, he just grunts and lowers the weapon.

Meanwhile up in space, we get the impression that Detmer is wrecking the hell out of Osyraa’s ship, but it’s hard to tell, because nearly the whole sequence is shot as a closeup on the front window of Book’s ship. But on the Discovery, they see that the Viridian is standing down. Osyraa appears one last time on the viewscreen to say they might have won this time, but one day, the Federation will “feel the full weight of the Chain”, and then her ship warps away.

So, ding-dong, the witch is dead. But down on the planet, Kyheem wonders what they’ll do now, because without Osyraa doing… something… the whole planet will starve, including his son. Burnham reminds them that they’re empaths, so there must be some way they can talk to all the locusts and tell them to go back to sea.

Up on the ship, Burnham and crew are cooking up a way to amplify the empathic power from Book and Kyheem and broadcast it to the entire planet, in much the same way they broadcast that Vahar’ai signal to all the residents of Kaminar last season. In the forest, Book and Kyheem kneel together and start chanting alien gibberish while their mood foreheads light up.

On the bridge, one of the crew can’t resist getting in a dig on Saru when he asks, “Shall I execute?” Instead, Saru tries “Carry on” for size. Carry on? No, that means something completely different, guys. A big white beam comes pouring out of the bottom of Discovery’s saucer, which amplifies the signal, and it seems all those sea locusts get the message and kindly return to the oceans. Book and Kyheem celebrate by touching their foreheads together.

In the mess hall, Detmer is regaling her crewmates with tales of her skillful piloting against the Viridian. It seems she’s happy and confident again, so can we finally say this is the end of the There’s Something Wrong With Detmer plot thread? If so, it was pretty meh. This could have been a great way to showcase one of the characters who’s not a regular, and we could have learned a lot more about Detmer, but she’s still a blank slate. Though honestly, Discovery never sticks the landing on their multi-episode story arcs, so I’m not too surprised.

Ryn is in the mess hall, sitting alone, and Tilly goes to sit with him. He talks about how as an Andorian, he grew up not trusting the Federation, but Discovery’s actions are making him soften his position. So he opens up to Tilly about why Osyraa wants him so bad: He knows the Emerald Chain is “running out of dilithium”, and he’s the only one who knows, except for Tilly, who now knows too. That’s it? Isn’t everyone running out of dilithium in this timeframe? Unless they’re running out, like, next week, I don’t see what the big secret is.

Meanwhile, Kyheem has brought his son onto Discovery, and everything is hunky dory with him and Book even though they were on the verge of killing each other like an hour ago. Burnham even takes the son off to go see Linus, who’s still molting, and promises the kid can peel off some of Linus’ face.

Kyheem looks at his brother and calls him “Book” for the first time, and Book says it sounds “stupid” coming from him. He reminds us there’s a “story” behind the name, but we still don’t get to learn it; Book will tell him “next time”. Kyheem thanks him, saying he helped saved Kwejian. They touch foreheads again and Kyheem bids adios.

In Engineering, Adira fell asleep waiting for their algorithm to finish. Stamets and Culber hover over Adira, talking about them like two doting fathers. But it turns out Adira was awake the whole time and leaves to go get some real sleep, but it’s clear Stamets is proud of his new protégé. And once again, it’s another episode where they’ve finally got the data they need, but we for some reason have to wait another week to get the results of the analysis.

Book and Burnham are near the shuttlebay, and Book complains that his ship is all banged up. But he says that Discovery saved his planet, and now he thinks the Federation might be alright, and he wants to be a part of it. She tells him to take it up with Saru. Maybe next week Book will be Chief Engineer. It wouldn’t be any dumber than the promotion we saw last week. Book says he was happy to see his home again, and Burnham is glad she was there to see it with him, the end.

Yet again, it’s another single-serving plot where Discovery saves the day in a ridiculously easy way before casually spore-jumping away to the next adventure. This one was probably the most boring of the season, particularly in the tortured way they tried to set up Osyraa as a threat to an entire planet. She gave them a “repellant” to get rid of the sea locusts, and now what? Is she taking it away? Is it running out? The people of Kwejian can’t just analyze it and make more? And apparently, their ecological distress started at the same time as the Burn, which was over a hundred years ago; nobody on Kwejian in all that time could come up with a solution until Discovery showed up and solved everything in five minutes? On top of all this, a character suddenly having a “brother” nobody knew about before is TNG season 7-levels of lameness.

But hey, did you notice? Nobody cried this week. There’s no crying in baseball, or “The Sanctuary”! No Burnham no cry!

Next week: The There’s Something Wrong With Georgiou plot appears to take center stage and I might actually start caring about it. Burnham has to fight Georgiou with swords and axes for some reason. David Cronenberg returns! Also, we get a brief glimpse of a hologram of an alien in a TNG season 1 uniform (the one that gave the whole cast back problems). Those latter two clips alone were more exciting than anything in this week’s episode.

TV Show: Star Trek: Discovery

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