HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!
In a season that has been marked more by character development than it has action, “There Is A Tide” stands out, which is not to say that there is no character development. However, Burnham’s odyssey through Discovery’s underbelly, taking out Osyraa’s regulators will strike many viewers as being somewhat familiar, particularly when one of the aforementioned Regulators actually takes Michael Burnham’s boots. It’s an interesting homage, and to a certain extent, the sequence overshadows the rest of the episode. Still, this episode manages to set up for an exciting season finale.
Considering that the Memory Alpha summary is already available, I will keep this summary brief. Book and Michael manage to crash into Discovery’s shuttle bay right before the ship slips inside Federation HQ’s shields. Incensed, Osyraa dispatches Regulators to apprehend the pilot, with the caveat that they take the pilot alive. She proceeds down to Spore Drive Central where she greets Aurellio whose awe at the spore drive is palpable. Osyraa directs him to find out exactly how it all works in order to duplicate the spore drive on Emerald Chain ships.
At Federation HQ, Admiral Vance has concluded that Osyraa is aboard the Discovery, so he deploys the ships at his immediate disposal to target Discovery. Osyraa asks to meet with the Federation in her capacity as minister in order to discuss a treaty. Intrigued, Vance allows her aboard. Osyraa makes a solid offer, impressing Vance, but Vance will only agree to the armistice if Osyraa steps down and is tried for her various crimes. Osyraa ceases the negotiations and storms out of the meeting, leaving Vance to contemplate his choices.
Tilly and the rest of the bridge crew have been detained in the Ready Room. Zareh and some Regulators drop Book off and generally snark at the confined Starfleet officers. Upon Zareh’s departure, Tilly and the crew disable the Regulators and prepare to take back the ship. Book and Ryn volunteer to stay behind because they hope to give Burnham and Tilly as much time as possible to put their plans in action. Back in Spore Drive Central, Aurellio wakes Stamets up and quizzes him about the tardigrade DNA, but Stamets refuses to reveal much, preferring instead to discuss his love for his family and appealing to Aurellio’s own. Aurellio informs Stamets that he’s wrong about Osyraa; she helped him when she should have left him to die. Stamets remains unconvinced.
Zareh eventually finds a way to locate Burnham, and Regulators begin to close in on her position. One Regulator does find her and succeeds in wounding Burnham, but Burnham activates fire suppression protocols which involve evacuating the fires into space. Rather than flames, the Regulator gets sucked into space, along with Burnham’s boots. Burnham resolves to locate Stamets and assumes he’ll be in Spore Drive Central. Burnham bursts into the room, stunning Aurellio and liberates Stamets from the handcuffs. Stamets frantically tries to access the drive chamber in order to have Discovery jump back to the Verubin Nebula to save Culber and Adira, once Burnham tells him that they are on the planet with Culber. Stamets refuses to see reason, so Burnham uses the Vulcan neck pinch to incapacitate him. He awakens while she places him in an escape field, and he begs her not to make that choice. She ejects him into space, and Zareh captures her before she can leave.
Meanwhile, Tilly and the rest of the crew hit up the Armory for weapons, and as they prepare to retake the ship, several DOT-23 robots find them. Tilly notices their odd behavior and concludes that the spore drive data live in the robots. The robots confirm Tilly’s suspicion and ask if she’s ready to take back the ship.
I have to admit that I did not see Osyraa’s attempt to negotiate a treaty with Vance coming. Discovery has built her up as being almost a caricature of a villain—executing her own nephew, attempting to starve an entire planet, and generally being nefarious. To see a glimpse of a different Osyraa strikes a discordant note, especially where, as here, so little effort is invested in balancing out Osyraa’s evil. It’s an interesting move by the writers. Granted, most of Osyraa’s motivations are as she indicates. The Emerald Chain lacks dilithium and will soon be in as dire straits as the Federation, and uniting the chain with the Federation would provide a gloss of legitimacy over the Chain that the Chain currently lacks. The Federation, in turn, would secure a 15 year walk-back of Chain activities on pre-warp worlds like Kwejian as well as access to the Chain’s trading network, meaning that the Federation would have access to various outposts that have been cut off from HQ for decades. As Vance admits, it’s not a bad deal, especially since Osyraa could nearly guarantee that the Chain would abolish slavery.
However, despite her cleverness, Osyraa fails to see that her presence as part of this new organization would rob it of the exact legitimacy she desires. Had she a better understanding of Vance himself, she would have anticipated his objection. However, Osyraa is looking after her own best interests, so she forcefully rejects Vance’s requirement. The sequence with Aurellio only confirms her stance. Aurellio pleads with her to exhibit the good heart he believes she possesses, but Osyraa shoots Ryn and explains to Aurellio that primarily, he’s alive because he is useful. There’s nothing surprising about any of this from a character perspective. What’s odd is using precious run time to explore this option. I’m a big fan of seeing more of Oded Fehr’s Vance, but potentially seeing a decent side to Osyraa only to walk it back nearly immediately is very, very odd. She would have been a much more interesting character had they allowed her to maintain the veneer of complexity they gave her in this episode.
Anthony Rapp gets another chance to stretch his acting muscles with Stamets. His interaction with Aurellio was a fairly textbook response to being taken prisoner. Stamets attempts to humanize himself in order to prevent Aurellio from killing him, and it’s equally clear that he’s doing so despite his nervousness. That fear rises to the surface when Burnham seeks to have him ejected from the ship, and he spares absolutely no emotional punches, nearly accusing her of leaving his family to die. Watching Stamets come to create his own tiny family has been a real delight, especially considering that the character has been long overdue for character traits other than general crankiness. Still, Stamets is, at his heart, a Starfleet officer, and as we saw in season one, sacrifice is part of that. I understand and empathize with being unwilling to accept Burnham’s decision, but at the end of the day, her decision to separate Stamets from the ship is the right one, as Vance affirms once they rescue Stamets from space. Hopefully Stamets can make his peace with that though I do wonder how Culber and Adira will respond as well.
I’ll be completely honest. I think Zareh gets a reappearance here because he’s a walking reminder of just how far Tilly and the rest of the Discovery crew have come since the second episode. Throwing him into immediate conflict with this much more confident Tilly superbly highlights the results of not just her character arc but the arc of the entire season. As Tilly has found her place in Command, so has Discovery found a place in the Starfleet of 3189 without sacrificing what makes them all so unique and important. Mary Wiseman absolutely nails Tilly’s contempt when she speaks to Zareh, and I can only hope for more in the season finale.
Beyond the weird dance the writers do with Osyraa, the episode’s emphasis on Burnham as the savior feels very problematic. Yes, Discovery remains the Michael Burnham show, but season three has given us so much development from everyone else that it’s a shame to see a return to this nearly laser-like focus on a single character. Star Trek reminds us that we’re at our best when we work together, and “There is a Tide” seems to be working very hard to separate Burnham from everyone else. That artistic choice does not seem to play well with the season’s overarching themes. We’ll see what happens in the next episode.
Three cups of Earl Grey Tea
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- Burnham gets a chance to call her mother, which is fantastic, but I do worry that we’re about to get a Deus Ex Ni’Var ending, almost as we did last season. Yes, they laid the groundwork for it, but having everyone swarm in to save the day felt a little too pat.
- Y’all, Tilly has a plan. I love her down to earth command style.
- Yep, Burnham loses her shoes. It’s very definitely an homage to Die Hard. Your mileage may vary as to whether it’s an effective one. I appreciated the nod.
- Discovery apparently got a new designation. She’s now the Discovery-A, according to Memory Alpha. Nice touch.
- Speaking of Memory Alpha, there has been some discussion with respect to how the site identifies Adira’s gender. After some discussion by Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp, the site appears to have rectified the issues. I’ll still link to MA because it’s a great Wiki, but representation is important. Adira is one of the first NB characters on TV, and it behooves us all to acknowledge that.
- While you could be forgiven for not recognizing Aurellio, Kenneth Mitchell is a frequent collaborator with current Trek. He’s provided voices for Lower Decks and has portrayed three different Klingons: Kol, Kol-Sha, and Tenavik. Mitchell does have ALS and uses a power chair as a mobility aid, so it’s great to see that translated into his new character.
- Also, is that Discovery‘s engine room? I don’t see a warp core in there, so I do wonder if it’s just the spore lab. I may have missed something there!