In my review of last week’s episode of Star Trek Discovery, I complained that Osyraa’s (Janet Kidder) motivations were unclear. She leads the Emerald Chain, overseeing a mercantile trading system spread throughout the universe. She uses slaves, violence, and other unsavory tactics to keep control of planets under her command. But in addition to being a despicable girlboss, she’s been actively agitating Discovery and the Federation throughout the season and along with the Burn, helping drive forward the main characters. This week’s episode “There Is A Tide…” is an action-packed battle for control of the Discovery, but more than that, it’s a character piece for Osyraa and an argument for forgiving her.
Star Trek Discovery (Season 3)
“There Is A Tide…”
Jonathan Frakes (director), Kenneth Lin (writer)
Sonequa Martin-Green, Mary Wiseman, and Anthony Rapp (cast)
December 31st, 2020
Last week’s episode saw Saru (Doug Jones) commanding an away mission to discover the cause of the Burn, while Osyraa and company sought to take over the Discovery. This week’s episode advances the plot but focuses solely on the Discovery and Osyraa, leaving aside Saru, Culber (Wilson Cruz), and Adira (Blu Del Barrio) to be presumably reunited next week, along with the universe’s supply of dilithium when the Burn is miraculously reversed.
The other members of the Discovery each get their own fun Die Hard-esque plots while withstanding Osyraa’s takeover of the ship. Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) gets to crawl through Jeffries tubes taking out enemy guards; Tilly (Mary Wiseman) rallies the crew and coordinates defenses; and Book (David Ajala) reunites with Ryn (Noah Averbach-Katz), his Andorian friend from earlier in the season, to distract and bargain with Osyraa. It’s extremely satisfying watching them all work together, knowing they’ll eventually be joined by Zora (Annabelle Wallis), the ship’s computer, and succeed in overtaking their captors.
In the past I’ve bemoaned modern Star Trek’s tendency towards action-packed finales, but this one has a much better sense of geography and personality than either of the first two seasons. All of the characters that have been built up throughout the season play their parts, and the Discovery is a tangible familiar setting that privileges the main characters and the viewers. We recognize places like the Cafeteria and the Engineering Bay, and the ship’s personality, Zora, in the old school cartoons she plays as a message to the crew. This episode feels like a culmination of all the Discovery-centric plots throughout the season, avoiding it from becoming just running through corridors and phasering bad guys.
Alternatively, the story delivers slower, more cerebral plot and character moments in two conversations seen throughout the episode. In Engineering, Stamets (Anthony Rapp) argues with Aurellio (Kenneth Mitchell) over control of the Spore Drive. Rapp does an amazing job portraying Stamets’ frustration, both throughout this conversation, and later when he realizes that Adira is with Culber, likely on the dangerous radiation-filled planet. There’s a small moment where Stamets asks Aurellio if he has any children — he does — and in turn Stamets talks about his child, referring to Adira. It’s a small moment that really codifies the queer family that’s been slowly building throughout the series. The only awkward moment is that Janet Reno (Tig Notaro) is not seen or mentioned at all in this episode. She was presumably too busy to appear here and might turn up next week, but her absence feels noteworthy in an episode so concerned with the main crew members.
Meanwhile, Aurellio’s arguments make the most compelling case for the work of Osyraa and the Emerald Chain. He’s a hoverchair user, and discusses how the Federation’s post-Burn failures particularly affected him as a person with a disability. He’s not just that though, and we do have discussions of his wife and children and overall perspective, but his experiences, especially with his disability, understandably influence his worldview. Complicated muddled progress is better than nothing, especially when it means life or death, and it’s easy to understand how he was radicalized by Osyraa.
Kenneth Mitchell is already a recurring guest star on Discovery, having played multiple Klingons in seasons one and two, as well as voicing a character on Lower Decks, but this is his first live-action human character, and he really shines. He’ll definitely be brought back, whether as Aurellio, or a new character, but I’d love to see him get a bigger part and continue to show up across new Trek. It’s really heartwarming how the creators behind Discovery accommodated Mitchell, a wheelchair user in real life, and shaped this part with him in mind. It’s the kind of thing that should be commonplace on television, but because it’s not (yet), it is worth pointing out.
Off the Discovery, Osyraa argues with Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) about the future of the Federation. She makes a compelling argument, including many concessions, for the Federation taking in the Emerald Chain and reforming to better accommodate more distant planets. Vance, in contrast, argues that her actions are unforgivable, and she must be tried and cannot represent the Emerald Chain as part of the Federation. Vance has functionally had control of Discovery for much of the season, and his character is privileged here again, as he gets to outright state the moral of this season: “The past is the only light with which we can see the future.” It’s a pithy line that thematically connects his debate with Osyraa with Discovery’s presence in the 31st century. As well, it’s a funny conclusion for an earlier point Vance makes while arguing. That while replicator food can be delicious, it literally comes from repurposed “shit.”
“There Is A Tide…” makes for fun viewing and brings the season together, bringing back multiple guest stars from other stories, and adding backstory to Osyraa. But it’s still sad seeing the season’s attempt at one-off stories falling apart. Episodes like this are necessary to fill back plot and build for future ones, but they’re not memorable and tend to be uneventful on their own. You can call this “Die Hard Star Trek” or “the one with the arguments about the Emerald Chain,” but neither of those are as concise or evocative as “the one where they go to Trill” or “the Michael Burnham survival story” or even last week’s “the one with the spooky holographic castle.” Previous season and mid-season finales have traditionally been the low point for Discovery plot-wise, but have pulled out big cliffhangers in their final moments. I’ll be curious to see what the next episode teases us for season four. I assume Discovery will be remaining in the 31st Century, the Emerald Chain and the Federation will unite, and the Burn will somehow be reversed. But I’d love to be surprised and excited for the future, and I hope the finale does that and delivers a compelling story.