Mar 9, 2021
The 32nd century isn’t so tough: Star Trek: Discovery “That Hope is You, Part 1”
Previously on Star Trek: Discovery’s first two seasons: It was all Michael Burnham, all the time, as she went from disgraced mutineer to a decorated officer to the key to saving all sentient life in the galaxy. Her ship the USS Discovery was carrying a treasure trove of data that was basically How to Create an Evil AI in 10 Easy Steps, and for some reason they couldn’t just reformat the hard drive, so their only choice was to have Burnham dress up as an angel to take the ship and everybody on it 930 years into the future. Meanwhile, Spock and Captain Pike swore to never again speak of Discovery or its crew under penalty of torture. In other words, it was the biggest, hardest Reset Button in the history of the franchise, making everybody wonder why they didn’t just set this show in the far future in the first place instead of trying to jam it into a pre-TOS timeline.
Here we are again, over a year later, and mostly I can’t believe the Discovery writers had months and months to write an incredible season premiere and all they came up with is this rather rote, by-the-numbers swashbuckling adventure. It doesn’t bode well for this season when even the first hour can’t go by without plenty of cliches, recycled plot points, and embarrassing silliness. Honestly, this feels more like something that could have been an episode of Short Treks that acted as a prelude to the actual season premiere—especially since it entirely focuses on Burnham and no other familiar characters.
We open on a middle-aged man sleeping in a sleek, futuristic bedroom. His alarm clock, oddly enough, is a holographic parakeet that displays the time, changes colors, and caws him awake in the morning. The man gets out of his holographic bed, brushes his teeth with some kind of energy beam, then sits at his holographic desk and holds an attaché case with a futuristic Starfleet logo.
We continue to watch him wake up, day after day after day, as classical musical blares and he stares at a display of the galaxy with the words, “Searching for signals”. Fade out on him, but he’ll be back later.
Out in space, a small ship is being pursued and fired upon by a larger ship. The pursuer is an alien named “Cosmo”, and the pursuee is a human-looking guy named “Book”, played by David Ajala, one of this season’s new regulars. And we get Cliché Alert #1 when it turns out Book stole some cargo from Cosmo and Cosmo wants it back. But Book responds that the cargo “doesn’t belong to you! It belongs to itself!” You can just pretend to be shocked later on when we find out the cargo is actually alive.
As Book’s ship evades Cosmo’s ship, he has the great misfortune of colliding directly with something coming out of wormhole. And that something is Michael Burnham in her Red Angel suit, just now arriving in the future. It seems highly unlikely that two random objects could collide in space like this, given how much of space is, well, vast empty space, but collide they do, and soon both Burnham’s Red Angel Suit and Book’s ship are damaged and plummeting to a planet below.
Burnham’s Red Angel suit is hosed, but she’s able to “reboot” it just in time to turn on the shields to save herself from the impact. She crashes into a black sand dune (this episode was filmed partly in Iceland, so we at least get some distinctive scenery) and she survives and crawls up through the dirt.
The suit opens up Iron Man-style and lets her out, and she pulls a case from the back of the suit which contains a phaser, a tricorder, a communicator, her Starfleet badge, and other goodies. She tries to contact Discovery, but there’s no response. The Red Angel suit’s computer voice tells her, “You have reached the year 3188,” and it also reports there are lifesigns nearby. For all Burnham knows, these could be giant carnivorous animals (which we’ll actually be seeing later), but she’s ecstatic and screams her head off in glee.
Up above, the wormhole is closing, so she sets the suit on autopilot to fly back into the wormhole to send out the final, seventh “signal” that the crew of the Enterprise detected in last season’s finale. After sobbing for a while, Burnham repeats her name and rank to herself and puts on her Starfleet badge. She starts making her way to where the other ship crashed, which looks to be quite the hike.
The credits play, and they’re about the same as last season’s, except with a few new added animations. This time we see what looks like several copies of the robot from the original Lost in Space, except they’re decorated with the new, updated Starfleet logo. We get an animation of Book’s ship, and also a weapon that looks like a Klingon disruptor. And in case you care, they changed the font on the title for some reason.
Burnham reaches the wrecked ship, which immediately cloaks itself, and Book jumps out of nowhere and attacks her. Burnham breaks out some more Vulcan-Fu to defend herself, while also trying to reason with Book, saying it was just an accident that she crashed into his ship.
He doesn’t care, and when she tries to tell him her name, he doesn’t want to know it. The fight ends when she puts her phaser to Book’s head, which he casually dismisses as an “antique”. He’s pissed off that she seems to have opened up a wormhole to get here, and apparently “ripping up space” is a bad idea these days, especially after “the Gorn destroyed two light-years’ worth of subspace”. And Burnham somehow knows who the Gorn are, despite her coming from a time period prior to Kirk making first contact with them.
He calls her “Rocket Girl” and tells her to go back where she came from, but she says she can’t. She asks if this is Terralysium, where Burnham thought she’d be able to rendezvous with her mom still stuck in the future, but Book says this is “Hima” but refuses to divulge any other info. She again apologizes for crashing into his ship, saying she has nowhere to go, so she’s got to “trust something. Or someone.” She needs to trust… something? Regardless, that something is Book.
He takes her aboard his ship and she marvels at the futuristic tech, including instrument panels that appear to change shape on demand. He complains that his ship is disabled now because she broke his “dilithium recrystalizer”, and now he can only get more dilithium from the “Mercantile”.
He then shows off his chonky cat, who has a “thyroid condition”. He says the cat is named “Grudge” because “She’s heavy and all mine,” and there’s that subtle Discovery dialogue we all know and love.
Book explains the Mercantile is a place you go to trade stuff for dilithium, so Burnham opens up her bag of “antiques” and asks what he can get for an old-style tricorder. They leave his ship, and we get more clues about his cargo (it’s “temperature sensitive”, gee, I wonder what it could be) and he cloaks the ship to make sure no one can find it. Burnham thinks he’s a “thief”, but he says he’s a “courier”.
Then he notices her Starfleet badge, and says every now and then he sees these badges being worn by “true believers” who can’t believe the Federation is gone. Yes, the Federation is no more, and Burnham is stunned speechless, even though, well, it’s 930 years in the future and why would she assume it would still be around? If I ended up in 3188 (or maybe even 2021?), I wouldn’t expect the United States to still be around in its current configuration.
Book says the Federation collapsed “after the Burn”, and is completely confused that Burnham doesn’t know anything about it. The “Burn”, according to Book, is an event that occurred about 100 years ago when almost all the dilithium in the galaxy suddenly “went boom”. As Burnham points out, every warp-capable ship is powered by dilithium, so long range travel got a whole lot more difficult after that. Book says a lot of people died, and the Federation eventually disappeared. He advises her to take off that badge. Burnham almost starts crying again, but she pulls herself together and keeps it on.
They finally make it to a city with a big ringed structure hovering above it, which is apparently the Mercantile. The Andorians and Orions are in control of this place, which looks to be the usual freewheeling lawless marketplace we’ve seen in sci-fi a thousand times. In fact, we’ve seen places just like this in the Star Trek franchise just recently, including Stardust City in Picard and that Orion sector of Qo’nos in Discovery’s season one finale.
They head across a bridge and walk inside, but Burnham gets stopped at the entrance because she doesn’t have some sort of identification gizmo embedded in her sleeve like everyone else in the future. But then Book shows off her ancient Starfleet technology and a disembodied voice from a drone says to let them in.
Book explains the Mercantile is a place where “holo sellers” bid on goods from “holo buyers”, and couriers like himself get paid just enough dilithium (those are the hot pink rocks) to make another run to secure more stuff to sell. But sometimes they can earn a little extra for themselves. Burnham spots some people disappearing into thin air and is wowed by the existence of a “portable transporter”, which I guess wasn’t a thing in the TOS days, but was definitely a thing in the TNG days.
Book directs Burnham towards a place where she can attempt to contact her ship. But it’s all a lie; he tricked her into walking into a secure area and she gets caught in a stasis beam. While she’s trapped, Book steals the rest of her stuff, saying an old tricorder isn’t going to fetch him what he needs. An enraged Burnham promises to track him down and make him pay for this.
Soon, she’s somewhere else getting interrogated by a giant Orion guy and an Andorian. They want to know where she came from and what her connection is to the Federation. She refuses to talk, so they blast her in the face with a gas that forces her to tell the truth, but the dose is too strong, and Burnham is now high as a kite. She starts laughing and the room is spinning around and she starts babbling rapid-fire nonsense. And, um, didn’t they do exactly the same thing with Tilly getting high on Qo’nos during the first season finale of Discovery? It’s kind of early on in this show’s run for it to already be recycling its own comedy bits, which weren’t particularly funny in the first place.
Meanwhile, Book is trying to pawn off the Starfleet stuff, when suddenly Cosmo comes up behind him and puts a weapon to his neck and leads him away.
Then it’s back to Burnham, who’s babbling relentlessly to the Orion and Andorian about everything that happened to her. We don’t see everything she says, but if it goes back to the whole Red Angel business, I can see why they look confused. They ask about Book and his cargo, and Burnham freely tells them all about it. She even says the cargo is temperature-controlled, so it might be “ice cream”. Now that would be an ending no one saw coming: Burnham is here to bring chocolate wobble back to the galaxy!
Meanwhile, Cosmo is beating up Book to get back his cargo, saying in subtitles that he’s going to feed his cat Grudge “to the starving”. Book replies, “Keep her name out of your mouth, Cosmo!” I love it when characters 1,000 years in the future use contemporary slang. The Orion and the Andorian show up to put a stop to things. They’ve got Burnham with them, and she takes her stuff back and punches Book in the face for tricking her. Before he can react, they’re suddenly surrounded by thugs who all want Book’s cargo, and they’ve all got futuristic ray guns that they wear on their hands.
Predictably, Burnham and Book give each other winks and start throwing punches. They’re able to snatch a couple of weapons, and Burnham quickly learns these weapons instantly turn people and things into dust and ash. Book gets hold of a gizmo that sends out a force ray that knocks all their enemies on their asses. Then he turns off the force field on a tray of dilithium crystals that’s just lying around in the open, and Burnham, despite still being hopped up on goofy gas, runs over to load up her bag.
They’re under attack again, so Book uses one of those “personal transporters” to send them both back outside. And… she punches him again. Who knows why. The pursuing thugs teleport in right after them, and more gunfights ensue, and Book and Burnham take out a whole load of bad guys, instantly vaporizing them. I mean, the body count must get up to 25 here, at least, and neither one of them seems at all perturbed by it.
They’re finally cornered, and Book warns she’s going to hate him for what he’s about to do. He jumps off a cliff and takes her with him, and they teleport while falling, and end up in a lake. As soon as they emerge from the water, she… yes, she punches him again. Keep it up, guys, maybe by around the tenth time she punches him, it’ll be funny. Soon they’re recuperating, and Book takes off his shirt to show off his physique and get a little of that sexual tension going. Burnham looks at the minor wound she has on her arm; somehow, a weapon that instantly vaporizes enemies only gave her a flesh wound.
Book goes to the water and starts muttering in an alien language, and amber lights form a pattern on his forehead, and soon a blue plant rises up from the water. He grabs a leaf and squirts out an aloe vera-like gel to treat Burnham’s wound. She wonders what the hell that was all about, and Book says it was something like a prayer.
He pulls out a device that opens up a subspace channel, and it turns out he could have done this the whole time. Burnham is annoyed, but surprisingly doesn’t punch him again. Instead, she tries to contact the Discovery and gets no response. Book finally figures out she’s travelled through time. But he doesn’t know how she did it, because apparently all time travel technology was destroyed after the “temporal wars”. Which… wouldn’t stop anyone from the past from coming here, would it?
They get back to Book’s ship, and as soon as they arrive, the Orion and Andorian and all their thugs—including a guy who randomly appears to be a member of the same species as Morn from Deep Space Nine—transport into view. They demand the precious cargo, and at one point Cosmo and an Andorian talk shit to each other, so the Orion vaporizes Cosmo.
They force Book to give up his access code to the cargo hold. And that access code is “sticky”, which I guess is supposed to be funny. The thugs decloak the ship and open up the cargo hold, and—surprise!—his “cargo” is a large living creature. The Orion tells his men not to kill it, because “it’s served fresh!”
And then Book takes a page from Raiders of the Lost Ark as he tells Burnham to close her eyes. The creature turns out to be a “trance worm”, basically a giant slug that hypnotizes the bad guys by just staring at them, represented by their eyes all glowing blue. The worm starts chowing down on a few of the goons and the rest (including Morn’s great-great-great-great-great-grandson) wisely teleport away.
Then the worm, whom Book calls “Molly”, turns to Burnham and swallows her up. But Book is able to use the amber lights on his forehead to communicate with the slug, which promptly vomits up Burnham. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t this exact same scene happen in the premiere of Lower Decks? Burnham is now all covered in goo but seems to be taking things pretty well, considering she was just partially digested. So it seems Book is like Aquaman, in that he can not only telepathically communicate with animals but also plants.
Now they’re on his ship travelling at warp, and Burnham realizes that in the absence of the Federation, Book is taking it upon himself to protect “endangered species” like the trance worms. He says that the rest of his family are poachers, so he’s the black sheep and not exactly welcome at reunions. His ship arrives at a planet and he utters the secret code that allows them into “Sanctuary Four”, an idyllic retreat where the trance worms can swim free. Book is hanging with some of his bros and he says they got here just in time for the “breeding cycle”. Burnham finally trusts Book enough to admit she’s from 930 years in the past and she came here to “ensure the future. A future.” She still really needs to find her ship, and Book knows somebody who can help.
They go to the ruins of a Federation relay station, and sitting at the “attendant desk” is the gentleman from the intro. He welcomes them on behalf of Starfleet, and Burnham announces her name and rank. The man is taken aback, and introduces himself as Aditya Sahil, Federation liaison. She asks him to look for the Discovery, but he can’t find any sign of them nearby. Alas, he can’t scan any other sectors, because there are no more long-range sensors. She admits that she’s from the past, before the Burn and the collapse of the Federation, and he warns her that with time travel being the way it is, Discovery might arrive tomorrow, or it might arrive a thousand years from now.
Sahil admits he’s not really a Federation official; his father was, and he just took over from him, but there’s been no one to swear him in. Apparently, he’s just been keeping up what’s left of this station for 40 years, in the slight chance someone would show up and prove that his hope was not in vain. “And that hope is you, Commander Burnham.” Wait, he’s just been sitting at this desk every day, staring into space, for the past forty years?
He wants her to do him a “great honor”, and he opens his attaché case, which holds a Federation flag, saying, “Only a commissioned officer may raise it.” They hang up the flag and stare at it for a while, and it’s an appropriately moving ending as it indicates Burnham is determined to bring the Federation back. But if you think about it, it’s a bit like me deciding in 2020 to bring back the Ottoman Empire or something.
Burnham asks Sahil to be her “acting communications chief” and to keep searching for Discovery, and they shake on it. Burnham promises that they’ll find “others” out there.
According to the spoiler-filled promo they show at the end of the episode, they do indeed find others, though it looks like Discovery takes a while to show up, because Burnham’s hair has grown quite long in the interim. We get glimpses of Discovery reaching Earth, Mirror Georgiou getting into more martial arts fights, Saru shooting his new apex predator spikes out of his head, the introduction of a new crewmember of non-binary gender, and Tilly doing some of her patented Tilly Shtick™ with Book’s chonky cat.
So, a pretty “meh” season premiere, and probably the weakest premiere of the series so far. Did the show really need to resort again to a character getting high and acting goofy? Did the Trek franchise really need more giant man-eating monsters? Did we need more Star Wars-esque smugglers and conmen and other various shady types you meet on remote frontier planets? And while there was a decent amount of action to keep things from getting too boring, it was all filmed too frenetically. Plus, Burnham vaporizing bad guys like she’s in a video game seemed out of character to me.
Learning about the Burn and the fall of the Federation was interesting, and I like the idea of Burnham reaching the future long before the rest of her ship, and (most likely) ending up in a relationship with Book in the meantime. But it feels like the few important events and reveals of this episode could have easily been shown in flashbacks in later episodes. As it is, I’ll just view this as sort of an “episode zero”, or warmup for the actual season premiere, which hopefully arrives next week.