Discovery’s “Die Trying” provides all kinds of fun easter eggs and connective tissue for both the Star Trek franchise and Discovery, but unfortunately it fails at telling a cohesive story.
Star Trek Discovery (Season 3)
Maja Vrvilo (director), James Duff & Sean Cochran (writers)
Doug Jones, Sonequa Martin-Green, Michelle Yeoh and Tig Notaro (cast)
November 12th, 2020
Modern Trek shows (and most modern genre shows) feel a need for season-long story arcs, and they’re often the weakest part of them. Discovery’s second season arc held together a little better than the first season’s, but they both felt forced and unnatural. There’s fun stuff in them, and the arcs always get the show where it needs to be. I greatly prefer when the show focuses on its characters or on the weekly plots though, rather than trying to constantly tie everything together.
This week, the Discovery arrives at Federation Headquarters courtesy of the new intel gained from Adira. It’s fun seeing the crew look on in wonder, and you feel their excitement at the new types of ships and technology around them. There are callbacks aplenty for hardcore Trek fans, include the USS Nog, a new Voyager, and a whole new class of starships. I’m sure there are other Easter eggs that I missed.
The Federation immediately suspects the Discovery of having nefarious intentions, both because the Discovery’s story is so far-fetched, and because time travel has been outlawed following the Temporal Wars in previous centuries. This is a fun callback to Enterprise, and I liked when they established it in this season’s premiere. I’m just wary of the show’s creators getting bogged down with it. Temporal Wars sound really cool on paper, but makes little sense dramatically or practically (see: Enterprise).
This leads to a montage of the crew being questioned about past events, which is fun but mostly fluff. When characters like Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and Culber (Wilson Cruz) are questioned, it veers almost into clip-show territory. Yeah, they’ve been on strange adventures; we’ve seen them. These stories are rehashed here mostly for foreshadowing purposes. Nothing new is added, but one of the Federation officers outright says they don’t know the cause of the Burn, unless “you have some piece of evidence not discovered in the last 120 years.”
David Cronenberg guest stars as Federation officer (possibly Section 31 officer?) Kovich, and that’s cooler and more surprising to me than any Trek callback they could’ve made. He’s properly menacing and mysterious and his presence in Star Trek means enough to me personally that it enables me to look past some of this episode’s flaws.
— TrekCore.com 🖖 (@TrekCore) November 15, 2020
Cronenberg plays wonderfully off of Michelle Yeoh, and the questioning sequences are really fun with both Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) and Jett Reno (Tig Notaro). Tig Notaro brings so much of herself to Jett Reno, but in a way that gels perfectly with the Star Trek universe. She’s constantly funny, smart, interesting, and annoyed all at the same time and adds personality to the show in every scene in which she appears. Jett Reno, Philippa Georgiou, and Saru (Doug Jones) are my favorite modern Star Trek characters. They’re all characters who combine the unique talents of their actors with classic Star Trek elements, making memorable characters unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Meanwhile, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) pushes Federation officers about the cause of the Burn from early on in the episode, and every time it made me groan. The Burn is more interesting as a new status quo to play, explore, and tell stories in, rather than as some new epic mystery. I’m particularly wary of the writers making the Burn a side effect of Michael Burnham or her mother’s time travel efforts. The Burn caused by Michael Burnham! What a terrible forced piece of continuity that could be. I’m fine with Discovery’s characters growing and becoming important within their universe, but I’m also happy for universe-changing events to remain mysteries, and even further, to not all be side effects of the adventures of the same handful of lead characters.
Saru and Burnham are also both aghast at the Federation’s suggestion of splitting up the Discovery’s crew onto other ships. They’ve been through so much, and they both need and deserve to stick together. I agree with that. Still, it feels a little silly when the Discovery goes speeding off to solve a mysterious disease plaguing the outskirts of the Federation. Sure, they can travel faster than other ships, but they’re still people from 1,000 years ago. This is a problem with the whole season if you look too hard at it, but I haven’t felt compelled to do so until this episode.
Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) leaves the ship at the end of this episode, but I fully expect to see her again. She’s a big part of this week’s new investigation, but it feels like an uninspired afterthought to all the Federation shenanigans. Her departure didn’t feel emotional enough to be permanent, especially in an episode largely made up of foreshadowing and callbacks to other shows and episodes. I enjoyed it, because I enjoy Star Trek as a franchise, but most of my favorite characters were sidelined to expository dialogues and fan service. I struggle to imagine “Die Trying” being enjoyable to someone who isn’t either a massive Star Trek fan, or who’s bingeing this season all at once and getting the much-needed answers to the questions introduced here.