At the end of last season’s finale, Michael Burnham and the crew of the Discovery are sent forward in time 930 years in the future. This marks a major turning point for both Discovery and the Star Trek franchise, paving new ground and boldly going where no Trek has gone before. This premiere’s “soft reboot” shows that everyone involved is more confident than ever and willing and able to take risks, try new things, and push the franchise forward, both narratively and socially.
This review contains spoilers.
Star Trek Discovery (Season 3)
“That Hope Is You, Part 1”
Olatunde Osunsanmi (director), Michelle Paradise, Jenny Lumet, and Alex Kurtzman (writers)
Sonequa Martin-Green and David Ajala (cast)
October 15, 2020
Discovery was originally conceived of as an anthology show, where each season would follow a different story within the wider Star Trek universe. This was eventually scrapped in favor of a much more standard ongoing narrative, a prequel to the Original Series that would center on an experimental science vessel and the growing hostility between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Everyone’s favorite thing, a prequel!
Like any good Star Trek show, the first season was plagued with behind-the-scenes drama. But Discovery has been able to reinvent itself like no other Trek series has, not only developing the characters but completely shifting tones, settings, and overarching plots every few episodes. Whether purposely or not, Discovery became an anthology series. This willingness to change and try new concepts has kept the show feeling fresh, even when it’s exploring family territory. This episode marks the latest reinvention for the series and the most unfamiliar territory Star Trek has seen in decades since the end of Voyager. Even more bravely, this episode is a small character piece that doesn’t feature the Discovery, most of the recurring characters, or any speaking white characters or actors.
Sonequa Martin-Green returns as Michael Burnham, lost alone in the 32nd century, joined by new series regular David Ajala as Book. They have a lovely back-and-forth, beginning as frustrated rivals and eventually becoming begrudgingly respected partners. There are fun twists and turns as we realize over the course of the episode how much they’ve begun to work together, with them pretending to double cross each other only as part of schemes for their own escape and safety.
There’s a lot of fast-paced action but with a strong grounding in the two central characters, Book and Burnham. Discovery and other recent Treks often have a problem of going for epic space battles and interstellar chases and fight sequences that often end up lackluster because it’s hard to actually follow what’s going on. Thankfully, that is not the case here. Hopefully setting the show in this post-Federation spread-out future will spare us from witnessing massive interminable spaceship battles, with dozens of CGI ships that are all easily confused for one another.
In contrast, this episode has a fun mix of CGI and practical effects as Book and Burnham navigate a seedy space marketplace. It’s a classic sci-fi trope for a reason and here it’s just as fun as ever. Countless different alien races are seen in both the background and the foreground, and I’m sure some of them will come back over the course of the season. I was particularly excited to see a Lurian (a member of Morn’s race!!) working alongside a Betelgeusian, an Andorian, and Orions. There are even hints that new series regulars Book and Aditya Sahil (played by Adil Hussain) are possibly not completely Human, both in their otherworldly behaviors and abilities. This is fun and weird and unexpected and what Star Trek should be!
This episode doesn’t tell the viewer much that we didn’t already know from last season’s finale, trailers, promos, and basic storytelling common sense. The series is now set in a post-Federation 32nd Century and will likely follow the crew of the Discovery re-establishing the Federation and trying to preserve Federation values in a slightly dystopian future. There is an interesting spin on classic Star Trek values as the Federation takes on a quasi-religious or mystical place in this universe. This almost feels like a meta-commentary on the way some fans have complained and argued about proper Starfleet values and behaviors in recent Trek series. The basic premise is nicked from a non-Trek Gene Roddenberry series, Andromeda, but given new life and meaning in a Star Trek context.
Despite the darkness in this episode, hope does shine through. The episode ends on two separately uplifting moments, both in Burnham swearing in Sahil, making his lifelong dream of being a Starfleet officer a reality, and Book successfully rescuing a member of an endangered species and bringing it back to his peaceful space hippie commune planet. This is a dystopian future and there are some evil capitalists exploiting gig workers, but there are good, diverse people doing good things!
Discovery is a show that has consistently tried to push television forward in terms of representation, and not always successfully. I’ve had plenty of issues in particular with the way they’ve treated their queer characters in the past, but this episode gives me real hope for this show going forward, especially knowing that there will be trans and non-binary characters introduced later this season.
The episode is titled “That Hope Is You, Part 1” and it certainly delivers on that. I do look forward to catching up with other series regulars soon, especially Saru (Doug Jones) and Tilly (Mary Wiseman), and look forward to Burnham and company reuniting hopefully soon. I hope as well that Discovery keeps with this new status quo moving forward and really explores and deepens our understanding of this future, both in this season and beyond. I wouldn’t be surprised if fans in the future advise newcomers to start watching Discovery with season 3 or that it really finds its heart and direction in season 3, in the same way people now talk about The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine. I’m excited to spend more time with Discovery, where no Trek has no gone before.