USS Discovery

Far From Home: Star Trek Meets the Spaghetti Western

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.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

Far From Home” shifts the story from Burnham to the rest of the Discovery crew, meaning that unlike Burnham, we didn’t have to wait too terribly long to find out what happened to the rest of Star Trek: Discovery’s ensemble cast. They, too, fall into terra and tempus incognito, but where Burnham found Cleveland Booker, Saru and Tilly find themselves in a Space Western. If “That Hope Is You” explored explicit themes of hope, “Far From Home” follows along by focusing on the importance of maintaining one’s principles even when doing so becomes complicated. As such, the episode hearkens back to Discovery’s first season, and just as when the Discovery found itself in a universe hostile to Federation values, now that Discovery lands in a time similarly hostile, Saru cleaves to those values as a living reminder of what the Federation really is.

Plot Ahoy!

The bridge crew regains consciousness just as the U.S.S. Discovery rockets out of the wormhole, heading straight toward a spectacularly ruined planet. Despite their attempts to avoid the collision, Keyla Detmer can only wrestle the unresponsive ship into a thermal roll, which softens the ship’s impact just enough to prevent the Discovery’s destruction. However, the impact knocked out internal and external sensors, and Tilly discovers that the ship lacks the components to repair all of the damage, particularly a destroyed translator. Commander Georgiou storms up to meet Acting Captain Saru to demand that things be fixed just as Tilly identifies an active settlement located in an artificial pocket of atmosphere. Saru takes Tilly with him to attempt to barter with the settlement’s occupants and leaves Commander Nhan in charge of the repairs and, by extension, the cranky Georgiou.

In Sickbay, Hugh Culber wakes Paul Stamets from his induced coma because he needs the biobed, and he wrangles his partner into a cellular regeneration chamber despite Stamets’ protests that he should aid in the efforts to repair the ruptured plasma manifold and the downed EPS grid. Culber remains unmoved, and Stamets appears to concede. However, he sneaks out of the chamber and drags himself down to Engineering, where Jett Reno watches Gene shovel Leland’s remains into a biohazard container. She recognizes that Stamets has no business being down there, but practically, she resolves to help him. Stamets identifies the location of the malfunction, so despite her own back injury, she follows him to the requisite Jeffries Tube.

On the planet’s surface, Tilly and Saru find themselves wandering into a literal saloon, complete with appropriate swinging doors, occupied by a few Coridanites. The bartender and his customers train weapons on the pair, and Saru attempts to talk them down. One of the Coridanites, Kal, demands that they prove that they are Starfleet, so Tilly recites a regulation. Kal accepts her, and they negotiate his aid in repairing the translator in exchange for enough dilithium to power the miners’ ships and repair their equipment. The bartender, Os’ir, mutters darkly that “Zareh” will be angry. Kal, however, expresses absolute faith that the Starfleet officers will help them.

Aboard Discovery, Nhan and Georgiou discuss that the ice on this planet displays parasitic behavior, and she concludes that once the sun goes down, the ice will entomb the ship. After a pithy discussion about poor decision-making skills, Georgiou wanders off, and Nhan returns to overseeing the repairs. Stamets and Reno find themselves stymied by the effort of getting into the Jeffries Tube due to their respective injuries, but Stamets resolves to drag himself up there anyway. Things go sideways, and Stamets potentially re-injures himself making the emergency repair as Reno directs him from below. Fortunately, his partner has come looking for him, and snarkily promises to offer treatment, if only so he can kill Stamets himself.

As predicted by Os’ir, Zareh beams into the saloon with his jingling cowboy boots and posse of minions. He proceeds to kill Kal and threaten Saru and Tilly. Fortunately, Georgiou, eminently skeptical that Saru’s plan to ask the locals for help will work, is able to make short work of Zareh’s backup with a little help from Saru’s judicial application of his darts. Georgiou moves to kill Zareh, but Saru prevents her from doing so, even pulling rank. Instead, he tells Os’ir that he must decide Zareh’s fate, so Os’ir sends Zareh out into the night to face the deadly parasitic ice. Saru promises Os’ir enough dilithium for his people before returning to the partially repaired Discovery with Tilly and Georgiou. They prepare to lift off from the planet’s surface as another ship breaks atmosphere above the struggling Discovery. The unknown vessel captures the Discovery in a tractor beam before opening a channel. Saru opts to respond, and Michael Burnham appears onscreen.

Analysis

“Far From Home” continues world-building for the far future, but where “That Hope is You, Part 1” highlighted the future tech, “Far From Home” emphasizes the lawlessness of a future without the Federation to maintain order and protect the weak. Zareh comments that the Burn was the best thing that could have happened to him, implying that the power vacuum created by the Federation’s collapse allows outlaws like himself to flourish. The on-planet sequences clearly tap into tropes made famous by an entire host of Western movies, using those tropes as a shorthand to communicate to the viewer not only who and what Zareh is but also hints about how the season will go. Saru walks through the saloon doors like a hooved Clint Eastwood. A familiar jingling of space-spurs heralds Zareh’s first steps, and the camera pans up from his stylized cowboy boots, just as it would in for the villain in any real Western. Jake Weber deserves much credit for his performance. He imbues Zareh with an intelligent malice that prevents the character from becoming a caricature of the menacing outlaw, and he’s just competent enough to make his confrontation with Georgiou interesting, while the result remains a foregone conclusion. The episode frames the Discovery crew as being the strangers who come into the community and stand up to the cruel outlaws, sometimes even becoming the local sheriff, and those tropes are consistent with Burnham’s stated intention to find the Federation and fix the future.

Aside from serving as the sacrifice that demonstrates Zareh’s evil, Kal offers Tilly and viewers a few more breadcrumbs about the fate of the Federation. Kal is a True Believer, but his faith seems to be based in a specific understanding of who and what Starfleet officers are. Even if Kal only sources his knowledge from legend and hearsay, that implies that legend and hearsay about the Federation still exist. Moreover, Zareh uses the term “V’draysh,” which we last heard in “Calypso,” and Michael Chabon has identified the term as a syncope for “Federation.” Perhaps the hints and whispers that sustained Aditya Sahil from last week have more roots in reality than even Burnham dared to hope.

Georigou’s role in the episode is an interesting one. On the one hand, her methods and values differ wildly from Saru’s, but on the other, she is best equipped to navigate the situation on The Colony. She, like Section 31, seems to occupy a liminal space between the vision of the Federation and sometimes expedient cruelty. Saru manages to stare her down this time, but if nothing else, the episode raises the question as to how long Georgiou will be content to play by Federation rules in a world better suited to her Empire mentality.

The interplay between Stamets, Reno, and Culber serves as a welcome comedic counterpoint to the standoff on-planet while still constituting welcome character development. Tig Notaro’s Jett Reno’s snark is undiminished by her trip into the future, and Stamets remains just as cranky. However, as before, they work together beautifully. Culber’s frustration with his partner is palpable, but Wilson Cruz does an admiral job of letting his character’s real affection for Stamets peek through. Granted, no matter how satisfying the witty repartee might be, none of it quite covers the real handwaving of just how Stamets is able to move under his own power after his injury and coma. Still, that’s hardly the weirdest thing Trek has waved away. I am looking forward to hearing how Burnham found them because the episode’s ending feels a little deux ex machina, considering how limited sensors and communications are in the year 3189. Hopefully, it’ll be a good explanation.

Rating:

Four cups of Earl Grey Tea

Stray Thoughts from the Couch

  1. I really hope someone checks on poor Keyla Detmer. Something is clearly wrong, and I wonder if the several knocks on her head damaged her cybernetics. The lady in Sickbay only commented regarding a concussion but may not have had time to check on her implants.
  2. The last time we saw Coridanites, they were in Enterprise.
  3. I note that there is a Tellarite exchange; we did catch a glimpse of Tellarites last week, but it’s nice to hear that they’re still around. Interestingly, we’ve now seen all four founding members of the Federation except Vulcans. Anyone else vaguely concerned that we’re going to see Discovery doubling down on the destruction of Vulcan? Sahil’s UFP flag was missing a number of stars.
  4. I really loved that the Discovery crew left Os’ir another True Believer. I like the idea of them leaving the universe just a little better than they encounter it every time.
  5. Saru telling Tilly that he wanted her because he wanted to make the best impression was wonderful. Georgiou is both correct and not when she observes that Tilly has the psychic presence of a kitten, and Saru’s recognition of that demonstrates real emotional intelligence that he’ll need if he continues sitting in the big chair.
  6. Apparently, Culber is up on his early 21st century memes. Either that, or they still give out novelty t-shirts in the far-flung future. Star Trek: Discovery often plays fast and loose with anachronistic speech, but that struck me as especially odd.
  7. In “Calypso,” Craft actually fought against the V’draysh, which means he was at war with the Federation, which hints at some problematic politics at least somewhere in the timeline. Part of me would like to see what happens to Craft, but I also recognize that the not knowing is perhaps better as it forces me to make a decision. Still, I wonder how much “fixing” by Burnham & Co. the Federation will require.

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