HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
Star Trek: Discovery’s second season was about making hard choices and confronting a difficult past. Season three’s opening episode is wholly forward-looking, offering only enough hints at the past thousand years to set up the season’s conflict and the scope of the Discovery’s new mission. More importantly, the episode focuses on hope and its power to drive us all forward and just possibly to be better. There exists nothing more Trek than that message.
The episode opens on a spotless bedroom, with a man waking up to a holographic bird alarm clock. He rises, dresses, and proceeds to his desk where he sits behind an old box prominently displaying the familiar delta shield. The cycle repeats just enough to suggest that although time passes, it does not bring any changes with it.
The scene flashes to the bridge of a highly advanced ship and a viewscreen indicating that he’s whipping through a debris field with another ship in hot pursuit. A Yridian appears on his viewscreen and threatens Book as Book has apparently stolen his rightfully stolen cargo. Book’s computer warns him that an object is incoming just as Burnham emerges from the temporal wormhole. She collides with his ship, and the impact drives them both into the atmosphere of a nearby planet.
Burnham survives the impact and sends the Red Angel suit back through the wormhole as it closes to provide the final signal for Spock after she orders it to self-destruct immediately after transmission. She sees the plume of smoke and proceeds to walk toward it. She finds Book, and after a scuffle, convinces him to help her. She boards the ship, meets the cat, and offers him her tricorder as a trade for taking her to the on-planet mercantile where she hopes to find a subspace array. Book leads her there, and with some fast-talking gets her admitted into the mercantile, a space normally reserved solely for couriers. He escorts her to an area and indicates it as the subspace array, and she offers him her tricorder to barter for dilithium crystals. She steps forward and is immediately immobilized by a stasis beam. Book takes her survival pack and explains that he led her to the vault and that she’ll be arrested.
An Andorian and Orion come to question her and spray her with an unidentified substance that turns out to be a truth serum, of sorts. They discover that she arrived with Book and lead her into the mercantile’s open area where Book has failed to negotiate a trade for Burnham’s equipment. The Yridian, Cosmo, attempts to take him prisoner, but Burnham’s party arrives. Burnham and Book escape by using his portable transporter, but the Andorian, the Orion, and a series of flunkies follow in hot pursuit. Book eventually grabs Burnham, flings them both off a cliff, and transports them into a body of water. They proceed to Book’s ship, but their pursuers intercept them and force Book to surrender the code to de-cloak his ship. They do so in order to retake his cargo, which exits the ship under its own power and proceeds to devour the smugglers. The trance worm, “Molly,” also tries to eat Burnham, but Book channels some sort of power and convinces Molly to let her go.
Book flies them to Sanctuary 4 where they release Molly with other trance worms that, in the absence of a Federation to enforce the Endangered Species Act, are being hunted to extinction. Book takes her to an unnamed former Federation communications station where Burnham meets Aditya Sahil, the gentleman from the cold open. He welcomes them to Starfleet and identifies himself as a Federation liaison. Burnham asks him to help search for her ship, but he can only find two Federation vessels. He then reveals that he has never been commissioned as an officer and therefore cannot follow in his forebears’ footsteps by raising the United Federation of Planets flag. Burnham dubs him as much an officer as anyone and asks him to accept a commission as chief communications officer. He accepts and tells her that even though he has no idea how many believers in the Federation remain, she gives him hope. Burnham expresses her own resolve that they will find the pieces of the Federation together.
In terms of plot, “That Hope is You, Part 1” mostly serves to introduce Book and set up the framework that will likely shape the rest of the seasons. Burnham, therefore the viewer, discovers that the Federation no longer exists, having collapsed after an event Book calls “The Burn.” Apparently, at some point in the intervening 930 years, dilithium just destabilized, with disastrous results. As Burnham reminds us, dilithium crystals are the key component of every warp drive, so rapid destabilization of those crystals would result in catastrophic destruction of nearly every space-faring vessel and possibly some station reactor cores. Why the crystals destabilized, however, is a mystery, but the episode implies heavily that the intervening chaos and dissolution of the Federation resulted in the quadrant’s descent into a dystopia that seems only slightly removed from that experienced by the fringe planets in Star Trek: Picard. Book casually mentions poaching, and the mercantile’s emphasis on barter implies that a quadrant-wide currency no longer exists.
Burnham alternates between fascination with the technological advancements and horror that the future for which she sacrificed everything she knew and loved does not include the Federation. Her distress is understandable, and Sonequa Martin-Green does a fantastic job of portraying Burnham’s fear that her sacrifice achieved little. However, Burnham, and by extension the episode, never succumbs to self-pity. In part, she never gets enough time to digest all of this fully, and there are just enough moments of levity to keep the episode’s tone from becoming too dark. Burnham under the influence is hilarious, and David Ajala imbues Cleveland Booker with enough charisma that you want to forgive his initial betrayal of Burnham.
Bookending the episode with Adil Hussain’s quietly resolved Aditya Sahil is genius because Sahil comes to embody the episode’s primary theme of hope. In the cold open, the monotony of Sahil’s life, underscored by the monochromatic palette of his surroundings, comes off as somewhat sad, but rather than leaving it there, the story gives Sahil the opportunity to characterize his own purpose. Sitting at his desk is an act of tremendous faith that Burnham’s appearance validates. Visually, the blue of his suit ceases to be an unremarkable part of an unremarkable room but rather suggests the blue of the UFP flag he and Burnham raise over his desk. In the face of that faith, Burnham’s own hopes, both that she can trust Book and will find her ship, feel similarly validated.
“That Hope is You” sets up a tremendous scope for season three. Burnham has to locate the Discovery, ascertain what happened to cause the Burn, and possibly rebuild the Federation. That’s quite a tall order for thirteen episodes, and given the unevenness of season two, some skepticism is justified. I do have to laud the Discovery team for making the attempt, and I, too, have hope that this will be a good run.
Four Cups of Earl Grey Tea
Stray Thoughts From the Couch:
- Visually, the episode manages to make the far flung future feel both believably advanced and also somewhat dingy. Discovery uses the familiar tactic of careful application of filters to give the planet a very alien feel, while incorporating enough alien fauna to give the planet a greater sense of life.
- I really loved some of the call-backs to previous canon here. Burnham’s shock that the Andorians (who have gotten a species redesign) and the Orions (who have not) are now bedfellows mirrors our own, but apparently, a thousand years haven’t mellowed the Andorian character much. Also, if you paid attention, at least one of the smugglers is a Lurian, like Morn from Deep Space Nine. Cosmo, I believe, is a Yridian, a race known for being smugglers, so they haven’t changed much either.
- I don’t entirely know what I think of Book’s magic power and weird chanting. He tells Burnham that he’s a rarity in the gene pool, but I worry that he’ll skirt the edge of the magical character stereotype.
- Discovery follows in the great franchise tradition of Not Being Subtle about its political message. The reference to the “Endangered Species Act” is hardly coincidental as is the backdrop of societal collapse. Discovery offers a message of hope—that we can do better, that even when we stumble as a society, we can recover. That’s been the heart of Trek since 1966, and it’s good to see it carried into 2020.