The One Where Burnham Disobeys Orders: Star Trek: Discovery “Scavengers”
Previously: Burnham spent a year alone on a spaceship with the hunky courier/animal activist Book, but nothing happened between them. There’s Something Wrong with Georgiou, who was last seen staring off into the distance for a considerable amount of time. The Burn blew up a lot of starships and brought about the fall of the Federation, but Adira Tal knew the way to Federation HQ, and also got visited by her dead boyfriend Gray Tal. Discovery made it back to Starfleet and Admiral Charles Vance welcomed them home.
Also during the previouslies, we get a glimpse of that Federation relay station from episode one. Anyone remember that? The home of “Federation liaison” Aditya Sahil, who had been sitting there for forty years waiting for someone, anyone connected to the Federation to pay a visit? I kind of thought we’d be seeing more of him, but it looks like he’s another dropped plotline. I sure hope somebody at least gave him a courtesy call to let him know they found the rest of the Federation.
We open on more chubby bots fixing the hull, and they’re changing the registry number of the USS Discovery to “NCC-1031-A”. That’s because in the last three weeks, the ship has been retrofitted with new technology, even though adding a letter to the registry number never worked that way before; when the original Enterprise got its refit, it was still the NCC-1701, and NCC-1701-A through E were completely different ships.
Regardless, the ship has now been equipped with programmable matter and “detachable nacelles”. Which I guess look cool, but don’t seem the slightest bit more practical than connected nacelles. In HQ, Vance is having a meeting of his captains, and Saru announces to the group that Discovery is ready to join the fleet and the crew is adapting to the new technologies.
Vance goes through the run-down of the threats the Federation is facing today. One planet is about to be wiped out by solar flares, while another is dealing with food shortages, and Vance orders the captain of the “Le Guin” to head there on a two-month trip to replenish supplies. Saru can’t help but break in to say that Discovery could get there instantly, but Vance says he needs Discovery here at HQ as their only “rapid responder”.
Some other captain pipes up all, “Rapid responder? Say what?” And it turns out none of the other captains have been briefed on Discovery’s spore drive until this very moment; Vance tells them the information is not to leave this room. We then learn that the Emerald Chain AKA the Andorian-Orion alliance is being led by someone named “Osyraa” and they might be attacking the planet Argeth soon, and Discovery will need to be ready to jump there at a moment’s notice.
Meanwhile, Lt. Willa is issuing new badges to Discovery’s bridge crew, which also function as communicators, holo-enabled tricorders, and personal transporters. They’ve also upgraded all their consoles with the programmable matter stuff and the crew gets giddy like kids unwrapping their Christmas presents early.
Also this week, Linus the Saurian has been promoted to Chief Comic Relief Officer. In trying to figure out his personal transporter, he beams into the captain’s chair by mistake, then grumbles that this isn’t the mess hall, and beams out. Good thing Saru wasn’t sitting there.
They get hailed by a ship coming from outside the distortion field, and Lt. Nilsson (who appears to be the one in charge when Saru and Burnham are away) has the call put on the viewer. After a moment, a cat appears on the viewscreen. It’s Book’s big chonky cat Grudge.
Cut to Saru’s ready room, where Burnham is playing a holo message from Book retrieved from his ship. He says he’s on the trail of a “black box” that Burnham might be interested in. He’s followed it to the planet Hunhau, which is in Emerald Chain territory, and he’s setting up his ship to auto-navigate its way to Burnham in case he doesn’t return in 24 hours. Burnham says this message was recorded three weeks ago, so things must have gone south. Does this mean Burnham gave the secret Federation HQ coordinates to Book? And Vance and the others are okay with this?
Burnham explains that the “black boxes” are exactly that; they’re the last recorded data from Starfleet ships that went boom in the Burn. She says she’s found two black boxes that indicate the Burn didn’t happen simultaneously across the galaxy. And if she can find a third, she can triangulate all the data and find the “point of origin” of the Burn. And yes, apparently Burnham is the only person to think of this in the 100+ years since the Burn happened.
She wants to go to Hunhau right away, but Saru turns her down. The admiral has ordered them to stay put and be ready to jump to Argeth. Burnham pleads with him, saying that the Federation can’t “stabilize” if they don’t know what caused the Burn, but he says the Federation is far too “vulnerable” right now and orders her to prep for the jump. Burnham looks stunned and walks out, and you can tell that once again, she won’t be following orders. Because it’s absolutely critical that she immediately solve this mystery that’s gone unsolved for at least a century now.
She goes to Georgiou, the one person she knows is willing to join her on this “unsanctioned mission”. Georgiou points out that Burnham is only going to make her captain look bad by disobeying direct orders, yet again. But Burnham says she has to do this, and of course Georgiou is in.
Book’s ship is soon on its way with Burnham and Georgiou on board, and we learn Hunhau is where people go to trade for parts and it’s basically a planet-sized junkyard. Georgiou makes some chatter with Burnham, asking why she fell for Book like a “two-year-old on the edge of a well”, and she still knows how to turn a phrase. She brings up “that Tyler thing”, saying Burnham should have known better.
But Burnham insists that they’re just friends and she had her own ship. “I didn’t love here or anything,” she says, and Georgiou immediately points out her dopey slip of the tongue. Burnham walks away, and Georgiou immediately has flashbacks to her time in the Mirror Universe. Her hand is covered in blood, there’s a bloody Terran dagger on the ground, and she screams out the name “San!” Back in the present, she almost faints. Oh, good. After the first season spent eight episodes in a row on Tyler/Voq’s scattered flashbacks to bloody torture and/or surgery, I can’t wait to relive this plot again.
Burnham knows Something is Wrong with Georgiou, but there’s no time for that, because they’ve arrived at Hunhau, and the whole planet is surrounded by starship debris from the Burn.
A plasticky android-looking Orion guy appears via holo-communicator, telling them to get lost because this is a private salvage yard. So Georgiou goes into Empress Mode, threatening the guy and wondering what his “boss” will do if he doesn’t allow them to land and trade their supplies of “real dilithium”. They get cleared to land, and we learn Burnham has repurposed the device that Book uses to keep track of his cat. She’s “reverse engineered” it so that it can track down Book instead, which gives us a slightly funny running gag in this episode where the device meows every time Burnham switches it on.
Back on Discovery, Tilly finds Grudge the Chonky Cat in her quarters. She asks the computer where Burnham is, and learns she’s not on the ship. She holds up Grudge and asks, “Did you eat her?” We then get an allegedly humorous bit where the cat crawls all over Tilly, while she learns there’s no trace of Book’s ship either. So it appears that even in the 32nd Century, people can leave starships and starships can leave Federation HQ without anyone noticing.
On Hunhau, they meet the Orion guy in person. His name is Tolor, and he’s the nephew of that Osyraa woman we were told about earlier who’s in charge of the Emerald Chain. They ask about the people working here, and Tolor explains they all “owe” Osyraa in some way, so this place is essentially a slave labor camp. Burnham is pretending to be Georgiou’s “servant”, and she says they need “self-sealing stem bolts” (a Deep Space Nine MacGuffin) and goes off in search of Book.
Elsewhere in the slave labor camp, an Andorian prisoner named Ryn is apologetic as he stamps another prisoner with a metal coin on the back of his neck. But Ryn gets called a “traitor” by the other prisoner anyway.
Cut to Book, who’s moving some scrap around with the help of his Bajoran friend Lai. Book catches sight of Burnham, but tells Ryn to keep his eyes down. Meanwhile, Lai gets caught trying to steal a “water ration”. Tolor shows up and decides to make an example out of Lai. He opens a door and tells Lai he can just walk out, saying there’s a good chance their new perimeter system doesn’t work yet. Lai makes a run for it while Tolor and his men shoot ray guns at him. And if you’ve seen The Running Man, you know exactly where this is headed: Lai gets to a laser fence and the coin thing on the back of his neck makes his head explode. Tolor snickers, “I guess it does work.”
Back on Discovery, Adira is doing some stuff in Engineering, when Gray Tal’s force ghost appears and wonders why she only works the whole time and doesn’t try to go out. Stamets enters, complaining that the whole place is in disarray. Then Linus the Saurian beams in by accident for the second time, and remember the Rule of Three. Adira has something to show Stamets: she’s redesigned the interface to the spore drive, so Stamets doesn’t need to put to get those needles inserted in his arms anymore. Now, he can just put his hands in “nanogel”, which I’m sure has excellent moisturizing properties too.
Back on Hunhau, Georgiou asks about buying the perimeter fence tech from Tolor, who stays mum about it, but this is just to establish he keeps the fence controls in his pocket. She then distracts him, buying Burnham some time to go talk to Book. They run to a storage room and hug and Book tells her she wasn’t supposed to come here, but she says she had no choice after viewing his “passive-aggressive holo”, which he claims was a “passive-passive holo”.
He says the black box is in his quarters, and she should just take it and go. She doesn’t want to leave him here, but he says escaping is no easy feat. It seems everyone here is terrified of this Osyraa person. Ryn the Andorian was trying to lead a revolt against her, so Osyraa hacked off his Andorian antennae and forced him to become the guy who puts the Exploding Coin on everyone’s necks. But Burnham’s got a plan, and it’s based on “Iso VII”, another adventure that happened to them during that very, very hectic year when they were on their own.
In Engineering, Tilly is playing around with her new holo-badge when Saru shows up to ask about Burnham being missing. Tilly doesn’t know where she went either, adding, “Shit, shit, shit…” Saru amusingly replies, “My sentiments exactly.” He says he now feels the same mistrust of Burnham as he did when they served together on the Shenzhou. So, that’s about two seasons of character development down the drain, then? Tilly decides they need to cut ties with Burnham before she brings them all down, and they need to tell Admiral Vance what Burnham did. Wow, even Tilly is getting sick of Burnham’s shit. Saru decides to follow the wise advice of his ensign, even though Tilly admits that if she had been in Michael’s situation, she might have done the same thing.
Back on Hunhau, Tolor has a drone following around Burnham and Georgiou. They’re really playing up the “master and servant” thing, until Burnham picks up a metal beam and goes all Louisville slugger on the drone. An alarm goes off around the camp, and it seems Book and Ryn are all ready to set the plan in motion. Ryn retrieved the black box from Book’s quarters, and it’s one of those EpiPen-looking things that Burnham got a few episodes ago. Book warns that they have “five minutes until shit gets real.” At that point, they’ll all have to make a run for it, and make their escape on a transport ship that’s coming from… somewhere.
Meanwhile, Burnham and Georgiou have been captured by Tolor’s men and brought aboard Book’s ship in cuffs. Soon, one of Tolor’s men announces he’s found “30 units of pure dilitihium”. Back in the camp, all the workers start fighting back, and Book is tossing off grenades he got from somewhere. I guess to stage a revolt in the future, all you have to do is say “Iso VII” and everyone immediately knows what you’re talking about. Alas, the perimeter fence is still on, but Book promises that his friends will “come through”.
On Book’s ship, Tolor tells his men to go deal with the rebellion. Tolor and exactly one other henchman remain behind, which works out perfectly for the martial arts fight that ensues. Georgiou is about to use her weapon on Tolor, but she suffers another bloody flashback to whatever happened to poor San, and passes out. Burnham yells at her to get to the controller for the perimeter fence, and eventually, Georgiou finds the will to stand and knock Tolor down and get the controller out of his pocket. He quickly beams away as Georgiou shuts off the fence. A transport ship instantly lands to rescue everybody, and all the prisoners run to it. One of the guards takes aim at Book, and naturally, Ryn pushes Book out of the way and takes the laser blast meant for him. Cue a dozen iterations of the two men shouting stuff like “Stay with me!” and “Just get out of here!” at each other.
Eventually, Book’s ship, piloted by Burnham and Georgiou, comes flying to the rescue, blasting the hell out of all the Andorian guards. And once again, the kill count here has got to be north of fifty. Book and Ryn beam aboard Book’s ship while the transport ship takes off. Georgiou gives one last pithy quote with, “Salvage this, you son of a bitch,” as she blasts random ships out of the sky. They crash down on the yard and destroy the whole camp.
As they head back to Discovery, Burnham wants to talk about What’s Wrong with Georgiou. But Georgiou herself doesn’t know, and it’s been going on for two weeks and only getting worse. Burnham says they’re not in the Mirror Universe anymore, and she’s not alone, and she can ask for help and trust people here. However, Georgiou recalls the Mirror version of Michael saying to trust her too, and that apparently didn’t work out too well.
In Discovery’s mess hall, Stamets spots Adira having a conversation with nobody, and asks who she’s talking to. Eventually, he coaxes it out of her that she sees her symbiont’s previous host Gray, who also used to be her boyfriend. But Stamets can sympathize, because he was also in love with someone who died, at least temporarily, and he no longer sees life and death as discrete, permanent things. He says he believes her about seeing Gray, and Adira replies, “You’re kind of like, the bomb, huh?” Ugh. Teenagers don’t even say this is 2020, let alone in 3189. For more authenticity, she should have said Stamets’ spore drive is a “bop”. Or his mushroom research “slaps”.
Cut to all three of them sitting together, seen from Adira’s perspective. Gray says he likes Stamets and Adira relays this to Stamets, who responds, “He’s clearly a genius!” Finally, Adira unzips Stamets’ sleeve to look at the port where he used to interface with the spore drive, and says she can do something about these.
And just like that, Book and Burnham are back on Discovery. Why did it take Book’s ship three weeks to reach Discovery from Hunhau at the start of the episode? I guess he set it on slow, relaxing kitty cruising mode. In Sickbay, we learn that Ryn is going to make a full recovery, and wow, that’s a load off my mind. The doctors have also surgically removed the Head Exploding Coin from Book’s neck. He and Burnham head into a turbolift, because Burnham is due to face the music for disobeying orders. And now comes an old Star Trek favorite where Book stops the turbolift, just so he can thank her for saving his life.
Burnham puts her hand on Book’s neck where the Death Coin used to be, and says they “always find each other”. And it looks like they’re about to kiss, when Linus the Saurian beams in to complete the trifecta and deliver the punchline: “This is not the science lab!”
He beams out and Burnham starts to casually talk about the new badges, when the romantic music abruptly comes back and they kiss for real. Okay, that was a pretty funny moment, and at last these two have owned up to the feelings they have for each other. But they were on a ship together alone for a year; is there some reason they didn’t kiss before? It’s like the writers wanted to do a “will-they-or-won’t-they” plotline but they have no idea what that actually is.
In Culber and Stamets’ quarters, Stamets is showing off how his arms are normal again, without the spore drive ports, and Culber is saying how much he hated those things. Stamets can’t believe he’s now a “tween’s confidante”, but he had to reach out to Adira because she reminds him of himself—especially in the way she “loves someone who died, but isn’t gone”. Right. We kind of already got that in the mess hall conversation.
And now we’re back at Federation HQ, and Burnham is about to get that dressing down from Saru and Admiral Vance for disobeying orders. But first, Vance says that even though Burnham’s mission was “100% rogue”, Saru should have brought the information to Vance, to judge if the “intel” was worth the risk. Then he turns his attention to Burnham, saying that she disobeyed orders and undermined Saru’s authority and his own authority and put her captain in a bad position, and the only reason she’s not in the brig is “you saved lives”. He means, those twenty or so guys who ran afoul of a crime lord and got stuck in a labor camp? I’m sure Vance was giddy with joy at getting them back.
Burnham then asks for permission to speak, and Vance replies, “It had better be the best thing I’ve ever heard.” Burnham just repeats how she’s been searching for the source of the Burn, and the Federation will never be “brought back together again” without knowing what caused it. This doesn’t appear to be the best thing Vance has ever heard, but regardless, he says they’ll see about that and leaves so that Saru can decide her punishment.
Burnham apologizes to Saru, but he says, “We both made mistakes,” and it seems his mistake was trusting her in the first place. He says he only wanted things to go back to normal, which is why he asked her to be his first officer. But as of now, she’s no longer his Number One, and he’s busting her back down to Chief Science Officer. Burnham, tearing up yet again, says, “Saru. You’re doing the right thing.” Surprisingly, Saru doesn’t reply, “Gee, thanks; the next time I want your advice on how to ruin a Starfleet career despite being given about ten second chances, I’ll ask for it.”
Instead, Saru says that one day, they’ll both find the answers they’re looking for. He beams out, and then Burnham meaningfully takes off her Starfleet badge.
So, after six weeks, the pattern seems a bit obvious: Every episode is going to be about Burnham getting a little closer to solving the Burn, while dealing with some random one-off plot that only tangentially relates to the fall of the Federation. This week it’s a random prison break, last week it was the Barzan guy in the seed vault, and the week before that it was helping out cranky Trills.
It’s not a bad way to structure episodes, but here it’s so forced. You can feel the wheels turning in the writers’ heads as they figure out how to get Burnham involved in some “action” subplot this week, instead of allowing stories to grow organically out of Discovery getting adjusted to its new time period and learning more about the Burn. And again, this show doesn’t seem interested in investing enough time in their one-off plots to make them feel worthwhile. Here we have yet another rando guest star (this time, the Andorian Ryn) that we’re supposed to give a crap about even though he gets about three lines the whole time.
And it seems each story is also going to involve Burnham ignoring orders or defying Starfleet rules in some way, though maybe next week we’ll get a break from that and find out Burnham is resigning or something. And the worst part is they couldn’t even be bothered to show us what Burnham learned from the black box this week, or if it was worth risking her entire career and being thrown in the brig. If they’re going to force a MacGuffin on us, at least follow through on it and don’t drag it out for artificial reasons.
Next time: Discovery brings us “Unification III”, the long-awaited sequel to The Next Generation’s unification two-parter, featuring Romulans and Vulcans living together, mass hysteria!