USS Discovery

Fan Collective Unimatrix 47 Examines Star Trek: Discovery’s “Jinaal” Episode

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

Episode three of Star Trek: Discovery’s final season takes us back to the planet Trill, where the story explores once again the necessity of relationships to existence and just how much what we want matters. For Adira, that means officially concluding their romantic relationship with Gray because honestly, the two of them are on different journeys. For Rayner, that means making the choice to connect with his new shipmates. The episode “Jinaal” makes for messy viewing, and honestly, that tracks because working out where we want to be in the web of relationships that makes up a community is a messy endeavor. We try on new relationships and learn what does and doesn’t work for us. Sometimes, we make poor choices from which we have to learn. It’s a process of evolution, and it’s therefore fitting that a show ostensibly taking a hard look at where we come from and how it impacts where we’re going does just that in this episode.

Plot Ahoy!

“Jinaal” takes us back to Trill following a new interpretation of the riddle discovered in Discovery’s previous episode. Guardian Xi offers Captain Burnham yet another riddle, which she manages to answer quickly. She beams down with Book, Adira, and Dr. Culber for a short zhian’tara ceremony so the symbiote Bix can connect them with Jinaal, one of the scientists employed by the Federation to research the Progenitor technology. Jinaal, in Culber’s body, leads them to the next clue, which proves to be a red herring because the real test is how Burnham and Book handle the vicious Itronoks. Burnham puts down her phaser and asks Book to convey their apologies to the lifeforms for straying all too close to their nest. The Itronoks back down, and Jinaal offers them the next clue, observing that the clues are designed to test the seeker. Only those who can see the personhood of entities who are not like them and believe in the potential for good in all beings should be allowed to find the technology.

Aboard Discovery, meanwhile, Burnham has asked that Rayner gets to know his new crewmates by scheduling interviews with all of them with Tilly’s assistance. Tilly offers to escort him, but Rayner insists on remaining in the lab to continue the search for Moll and L’ak. Therefore, he summons the crew to him, and he gives them twenty words to tell him something he wouldn’t find in their files. Tilly watches this process with growing frustration and eventually uses her twenty words to tell him that he had the choice to connect, refused to take it, and was generally conducting himself like a…well, we don’t know. She ran out of words. Later, Rayner finds her in the ship’s bar and explains that he did learn something valuable in each interview, but Tilly reminds him that he had the choice to forge a connection with the crew and didn’t take it.

On the relationship front, Adira and Gray agree that they’re growing in different directions and that their romantic relationship isn’t going to survive these changes. Neither seems overly upset about it, but they reaffirm their closeness. Saru runs into his first relationship fight when he listens to T’Rina’s assistant who wants to delay the announcement of their engagement. The Vulcan separatists would not take kindly to T’Rina marrying a non-Vulcan, and the assistant worries that the resulting scandal will destroy T’Rina’s political career. T’Rina basically informs Saru that she is not in need of saving and that he should have been honest about what he was doing, which was listening to the assistant and not to his partner. Please take note, T’Rina is neither a damsel nor in distress, please and thank you. Saru learns his lesson, and they reconcile while T’Rina explains that conflict is inevitable.

The episode ends with Adira saying their goodbyes on Trill and Moll, dressed in disguise, leaving some sort of item on Adira as they return to the Discovery.


“Jinaal” covers a great deal of ground here, mostly in terms of character development. This story choice makes for some odd pacing, but largely, “Jinaal” does exactly what it needs to do. The episode really drives home the metaphor that our lives are journeys. Jett Reno makes an explicit reference to it and so does Dr. Culber, fresh off his zhian’tara experience. We encounter so many people along the way that come into and fall out of our lives, but those connections are still important. I’d argue that those connections are key to our development as people.

However, the episode “Jinaal” really drives home the idea that Discovery is on a very specific type of fetch quest; Discovery is taking us on a grail quest. Burnham makes this as explicit as she can when she discusses with Culber that the technology for which they search is as close as they’ll ever get to the ones who made them. In essence, this technology is the closest they’ll get to meeting a god that already has a starship. If we think of Discovery’s Season 5 as being Star Trek’s answer to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, most of the tropes we’re seeing from the epic nature of the quest to the reliance on eight-hundred-year-old riddles and the mild grave robbing fit nicely within the modern conception of what a pop-culture grail quest would look like.

Taking a more traditional, literary look at the season, viewing Burnham through the grail myth lens gives us Galahad. I by no means want to imply that Burnham as a character embodies the monastic asceticism that sets Galahad apart even from Percival, but other parallels exist. Malory’s Galahad is a bit of a go-getter. He sets out on the quest on his own initiative, a trait which Burnham possesses in spades. He also travels from adventure to adventure, sparing enemies and rescuing maidens; Le Morte d’Arthur is a compilation of medieval romances. Burnham opens this season by choosing to protect innocents rather than pursue foes. She remains carefully respectful of the sacredness of the necropolis where they find the first pieces of Vellek’s map, and she recognizes the legitimacy of the itronoks’ protest at her presence in their nesting area. More importantly, though, is Burnham’s unshakable faith in all beings’ capacity for good, and though her faith is a bit more nuanced than Galahad’s, they share the purity of that faith.

That leaves the question of who might be Percival and Bors in this Star Trek retelling. Percival in the Chretien de Troyes version is meant to be the hero, but he fails to ask the right questions and therefore does not heal the Fisher King. Sir Bors is the youngest, and his story involves choosing an innocent over his brother, demonstrating his virtuous character. Though, again, neither character is going to be an exact match for their medieval counterparts, I think an argument can be made that we see some of Percival in Rayner, whose hyperfocus on his mission distracts him from the potential harm his actions could cause. With the Moll as his potential sister, there could be a parallel between Bors and Book, beyond the similarities between their names.

All of these potential links between the grail myth and season five matter because, thematically, the grail quest isn’t actually about possessing the grail. Rather, the grail quest is about proving one’s worth and becoming worthy of knowing the grail mysteries. Galahad, the only knight worthy to hold the grail, doesn’t actually keep it. He ascends into heaven, sometimes physically and sometimes only in spirit depending on the version of the story. Neither Percival nor Bors inherits possession of the grail though both are present for Galahad’s ascension. We’re already seeing some of the same themes get airtime in season five. Jinaal needs to find someone worthy of following the quest before he and the symbiote Bix can rest. Burnham consistently proves her worth by acting with empathy and respect both to the potential avalanche victims and to the Itronoks. She’s bringing Rayner and Book along for the ride, and it’ll be interesting to see how their respective quests evolve and conclude over the course of the season.

The biggest question these parallels pose is what does ascension look like in a Star Trek: Discovery context. We know how it played out in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and we have a glimmer of what it might look like for a Q. Could the infinity key Kovich gave Burnham have a greater symbolic significance? I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to seeing where the narrative goes. In any event, I don’t see this season ending with Burnham in possession of the Progenitor technology.


Three map pieces of five

Stray Thoughts From the Couch

  1. Loved it when Jett legitimately called Stamets space dad.
  2. Tilly flexes her shiny spine at Rayner, and it’s glorious.
  3. T’Rina putting Saru in his place and then forgiving him is relationship goals. I will die on this hill.
  4. Also, never let anyone tell you your misspent college coursework in medieval literature will never be useful. It’s a big, fat lie.
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