A third season filled with dramatic narrative shakeups ends in the most abrupt, contrived way possible.
Please note that this review contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the season finale of Star Trek: Discovery.
Star Trek: Discovery’s creative team is in a near-impossible position. They have to satisfy new converts to Star Trek who expect the slickness, speed, and spectacle of modern television. They have to satisfy the longtime fans still accustomed to the storytelling rhythms of the 1960s and/or the 1990s. They have to satisfy the die-hard nitpickers who will cry foul at the smallest pointy ear out of place. And they have to try to meet the needs of all these disparate groups at once.
“That Hope Is You Pt. 2” fails at this herculean task, ultimately offering viewers an overstuffed, sweaty, disjointed capstone to what’s otherwise been the series’ best year on the air. This season finale is a heap of uninvolving action clichés, burying a true blue Star Trek character story, followed by a pile-up of undercooked resolutions and unearned emotion. There are some good things here, but not enough to make for a satisfying conclusion to the grand aims of Discovery’s third season.
Remember the emotional journeys that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) has been through this year? Well, forget them, because this episode mainly needs her to punch stuff, leap off of stuff, and blow stuff up. There’s nothing wrong with a little action, but it crowds out almost everything else here, to the finale’s serious detriment.
Burnham teams up with Book (David Ajala) to reach the ship’s Data Core so that they can regain control of the Discovery from Osyraa (Janet Kidder). In practice, the mission is an excuse for the duo to throw hands with a clown car’s worth of faceless Regulators and turn the show into a mindless, mid-budget action flick for long stretches. It makes for a disconsonant end to an otherwise more contemplative season from the show.
Eventually, Book fights Zareh (Jake Weber) in the unconvincing green-screened confines of the Discovery’s bafflingly cavernous turbolift shafts. Burnham fights Osyraa in the Data Core for no good reason, which is at least a more visually-pleasing setting. And as a result, we’re back to action movie quips and clichés. These fights have little meaning because they flatten, if not outright erase, the broader philosophical questions Discovery’s been asking this year, in favor of a bunch of stale, contrived dust-ups.
Osyraa pushes Burnham into what looks like a pit of programmable matter microchips, only for Michael to blast her foe from within and fight her way out, a sequence seemingly designed to create suspense and symbolize Burnham’s determination. But we’ve never seen this room or this pit before. There’s no setup for how it works and we’ve barely seen Osyraa and Michael interact until now. So it just plays like any old dose of replacement-level action instead of providing the catharsis that should come from our protagonist beating the Big Bad.
After it’s over, Michael even declares “Unlike you, I never quit.” But that inspirational line from a 1980s Schwarzenegger movie has nothing to do with the personal or broader conflicts that Burnham and Osyraa have personified this season. It’s all just empty calories, not very tasty ones at that, which is emblematic of the finale’s approach.
What’s odd is that mixed in with all these undermotivated fisticuffs developments is a good, nuts and bolts Star Trek plot. Back in the Verubin Nebula, Saru (Doug Jones) has to continue building a relationship with Su’Kal (Bill Irwin), to ease him into the truth about his home and what happened to the rest of the galaxy, and eventually persuade him to leave the safety of his comforting but deteriorating holo-cradle to embrace “the outside.”
This story thread has all the hallmarks of a classic Trek story. It’s a weird phenomenon taking place within a crazy space anomaly. It’s rooted in the emotional struggles and newfound connections among the characters. And that science fiction setup and sense of interpersonal bonding speaks to broader themes of solace from friends and finding courage in the face of the scary and unknown. It’s the one part of “That Hope Is You pt. 2” that feels like it belongs in Star Trek specifically and not just any old sci-fi explosion-fest.
Even then, the episode holds the audience’s hand through revelations that were already clear long before now. Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) and Adira (Blu del Barrio) go through scads of exposition about Su’Kal, and the nebula, and the dilithium’s subspace frequency, to account for how this surviving Kelpien caused The Burn, an answer viewers already gleaned without needing more Treknobabble to explain it.
These fights have little meaning because they flatten, if not outright erase, the broader philosophical questions Discovery’s been asking this year, in favor of a bunch of stale, contrived dust-ups.
The episode confirms, as expected, that it was Su’Kal’s emotional reaction over his mother’s death that spurred The Burn. There’s power in visualizing that through a convenient holo-log, but again, Discovery doesn’t need to waste more time, in an already bloated episode, overexplaining the mechanics of it afterward.
It is, nevertheless, uplifting when Saru tells his fellow Kelpien, “Even in fear, you can still step forward,” a lesson he’s more than lived through himself. There’s catharsis when Su’Kal, given the support of his new friends, finds the strength to leave his comfortable cocoon. And there’s meaning when Saru’s true form is revealed, and he and his fellow Kelpien bond as brothers. It’s the best part of this finale, featuring the strongest realization of the season’s themes, and the one truest to the franchise’s roots.
But from there, it’s a steady slide down through various contrivances and seemingly random developments. Tilly’s (Mary Wiseman) otherwise encouraging leadership arc this season peters out in an uninspired fashion. She has the guts to lead the Discovery B-team on a suicide mission to stop Osyraa, aiming to blow up one of the ship’s nacelles despite the lack of life support and oxygen, but that’s about where her self-actualization as Acting Captain ends.
It turns out to be Lt. Owosekun (Oyin Oladejo) who gets the heroic final moment, not Tilly, thanks to her just-now-mentioned family history of breath-holding. The finale wants to wring all kinds of pathos from her and the rest of the B-team’s near-sacrifice, but of the crewmembers at risk here, only Tilly (and to a lesser extent Lt. Detmer) have received any real characterization, so the whole thing falls flat.
Worse yet, Discovery does little to establish these sorts of details until moments before they’re plot-relevant, and “yada yada yada”s beyond any real complications. Owo is a super-breather! This self-sacrificing Sphere Data robot is the last one apparently! Book’s Kwejian zoological empathic abilities suddenly mean that he’s able to be a conduit for the spore drive! These developments aren’t crazy, but they come with precious little build-up and thus feel too convenient and arbitrary. Like so much in this finale, it all feels rushed and undermotivated.
That speaks to the other grand flaw at play in this episode — a complete lack of tension in each of these theoretically epic clashes and supposedly close shaves. The Discovery B-team and their robot friend are all going to die in the nacelle area! Burnham and Book aren’t going to be able to jump away in time to escape the ejected warp core explosion they’re using to destroy the Viridian from the inside! Saru and company are going to die on the crumbling Kelpien ship in the nebula!
[Discovery] sets aside the complexity of the season’s competing perspectives and character arcs, in favor of a clump of bog-standard fist fights and fire fights.
Except it’s hard to buy that the show would go through with any of these tragedies, and the performance, filming, and editing choices at play aren’t good enough to make up for that. There’s genuine warmth when the group trapped in the nebula bands together and resolves that whatever happens, they’ll have each other. But all these ought-to-be-tense moments are hobbled by the obvious false jeopardy.
Sure enough, Burnham turns on life support just in time to save Tilly and her team. Jett Reno (Tig Notaro) and Owo fix the Sphere Data bot with no trouble. Burnham and the Discovery escape the explosion and arrive to rescue Saru and company. There are no real consequences, or even minor losses, in all of this risk-taking, just a set of unconvincing head-fakes.
In the end, Tilly abdicates as Acting Captain in the heat of battle, and Saru leaves to mentor Su’Kal on their shared homeworld. That clears the way for Burnham to gain the command both versions of Philippa Georgiou saw in her future, thanks to, as Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) puts it, doing things her way. After three seasons and three different captains, it’s not a bad time for Burnham’s ascension, but this is a meager means by which to put her in the chair.
It does, however, give Discovery an excuse to return to one of its favorite devices — voiceover narration that sums up everything we just saw in a pat and trite fashion. Burnham offers a bog-standard speech about disconnection healing into connection that lays the season’s message bare for anyone who’s been asleep for the past twelve episodes, capped off with a Gene Roddenberry quote on the subject just in case the monologue wasn’t on-the-nose enough for you. It’s a tired approach that weakens, rather than bolsters, the finale’s worthwhile message through its bluntness.
Discovery’s third season was, in many ways, a great step forward for the show. The jump to the 32nd century freed the series to tell its own stories in its own corner of the timeline, one far less limited by the strictures of continuity and a known future. The season’s tales of noble, old-fashioned idealists finding a galaxy that’s been torn apart and resolving to stitch it back together through their shared courage and compassion is pure Trek. And the season’s themes of healing such traumas and braving the future, even when it frightens us, are timely and heartening to the last.
But that just makes this finale all the more disappointing, in how it sets aside the complexity of the season’s competing perspectives and character arcs, in favor of a clump of bog-standard fistfights and firefights, mixed into a series of quick fixes to problems both practical and emotional.
These are problems that have afflicted the show from the beginning, and this outing demonstrates that whatever its commendable improvements this year, this series isn’t fully rid of them. In the end, this awkward mishmash of convenient solutions, a few good but scattered character moments, and hollow spectacle is unlikely to satisfy any group of fans, let alone all of them.
The best we can hope for is the same thing Burnham and her crew hope for at the end of “That Hope Is You Pt. 2” — a path forward in a place that isn’t fully fixed yet, but is, with any luck, on its way. There will be more bumps in the road for Discovery, the ship and the show, but hopefully they won’t be as big or near-disastrous as in this closing adventure.
- Book finds the strength to kick Zareh’s ass after the guy insults his pudgy cat. Your humble reviewer (and, I assume, wide swaths of the show’s target audience) can relate.
- Since the holodeck on the Kelpien ship is basically magic, Dr. Culber and Saru can finally see Gray (Ian Alexander) and promise to find a way to duplicate his more corporeal presence on the Discovery. It works as a metaphor for trans individuals being able to feel “seen” and getting support from a community friendly to them in the process. And yet, like so much in this episode, it feels well-intentioned but underdeveloped.
- “This is what’s called a no-win situation.” “I don’t believe in those.” Hey! Remember when Captain Kirk had a whole movie about that idea? It doesn’t have much, if anything, to do with this episode, but what a fond, out-of-context recollection for the audience!
- In the same vein, it’s nice, if odd, to hear The Original Series end credits music again here.
- Aurelio (Kenneth Mitchell) joining the good guys might mean more if (1.) we hadn’t just met the dude and (2.) his breaking point wasn’t the world’s softest choking from Osyraa. I’ve had water fountain coughing fits that were more harrowing.
- Stamets (Anthony Rapp) seemingly hasn’t forgiven Burnham for thwarting his efforts to rescue Culber and Adira in the last episode, a nice touch to show that not everything from this season is fully resolved.
- On the other hand, the closing montage brings most things full circle, with suggestions that the Trill and Ni’Var will fully embrace the Federation which, alongside the assist from the Ni’Var fleet, shows the crew’s escapades this season made a lasting impact. (Though what about Earth?)
- Likewise, Aditya Sahil (Adil Hussain), the heartwarming Starfleet wannabe and keeper of the flame from the season’s first episode, earns his stripes and runs into Burnham to cap off the montage. It’s a lovely moment.
- Speaking of which, a new captain means spiffy new uniforms for the whole crew! Whatever the next season holds, our heroes will at least be boldly going with some style.