Discovery reunites with Starfleet and struggles to find their role in this new, futuristic dynamic.
In some ways, “Die Trying” is a major turning point in the serialized tale that Star Trek: Discovery continues to tell this season. Our heroes reunite with what remains of the Federation and Starfleet. They earn their place within the wondrous new fleet. They acclimate once more to the drastic differences of their new normal as they aim to carry the hopes and ideals of a lost past into a future that sorely needs them.
But in other ways, the episode is simply a page out of the usual Star Trek playbook. The stakes and the setting are a bit different, but at its base, “Die Trying” centers on a dangerous away mission, a mysterious problem on a damaged ship, and the catharsis that comes from solving both the scientific and personal issues that arise in the process. It’s an approach that, but for some slicker (if occasionally sterile) backgrounds, wouldn’t feel out of place on prior shows from The Original Series to Voyager.
It’s a balance Discovery has struggled to strike in the past—catching up with modern TV norms while also honoring the franchise’s time-tested rhythms—but it works well here. The proceedings go on a little too long, and there are, as usual, a few too many on-the-nose conversations about What It All Means. But there’s also a clarity and a well-built structure to “Die Trying” that boost the episode, even when other elements aren’t clicking.
That starts with clear stakes. Discovery makes it to the new Federation HQ thanks to Adira (Blu del Barrio), but doesn’t receive the warm welcome its crew might have hoped for. Starfleet’s head honcho, Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr), beams Adira, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), and Saru (Doug Jones) aboard and treats their story of a time-flung vessel whose journey went unrecorded by Starfleet logs with understandable suspicion. It’s part and parcel with the pricklier, more fractious future Burnham and company have experienced thus far.
From that meeting come implicit threats. The Discovery and its crew may be rejected wholesale. The ship could be requisitioned by this new Federation, and its crew might find themselves reassigned. Our heroes may have traveled all this way both in distance and in time only to be broken up and absorbed into an organization that seems, at best, profoundly skeptical of them.
But so too comes an opportunity. A group of local aliens happen to be suffering from a mysterious, life-threatening illness. Only the Discovery has the spore tech and the know-how to reach a Federation Seed Ship (one storing vital flora in case of disaster) that could hold the key to synthesizing a cure. If Burnham can succeed in retrieving the goods (with Saru held behind as collateral) she and her crewmates will have proven themselves, earning the chance to not only become full-fledged members of this new Starfleet but also to stick together.
Knowing that adds weight to what could otherwise be a standard-issue Star Trek adventure. Burnham and company aren’t just fighting to save the lives of a group of strangers afflicted by mysterious malady in the proud Trek tradition. They’re fighting to be able to remain a crew and a community, despite the raised eyebrows of their 32nd century comrades.
There’s a clarity and a well-built structure to “Die Trying” that boost the episode, even when other elements aren’t clicking.
That ties into the major theme of “Die Trying”: a tug of war between vindicating the demands of Starfleet versus meeting the needs of your individual community. That comes through in a respectful but pointed clash between Burnham and Saru. Michael speaks up when she feels the Admiral (who’s suspicious in the world of Trek by rank alone) is wrong, and Saru underscores their duty to follow orders and notes Burnham’s history of breaking ranks to disastrous ends for good measure.
But that theme also comes through in Commander Nhan’s (Rachel Ancheril) dilemma over whether to follow Starfleet protocol on the potentially-doomed Seed Ship or to honor her Barzan heritage and brethren by taking the ship’s residents to her home planet as a final resting place.
Most of what takes place on the Seed Ship is just a solid nuts-and-bolts Star Trek adventure. There’s an ominous threat, a tricky technical problem to solve, and personal struggles that must be overcome in order to fix both. And yet, what gives this middle portion life is Nhan. She feels compelled to complete her mission for Starfleet but also feels homesick after seeing the joy and anguish of the fellow Barzans on board and honor-bound to look after them.
In the end, she, Burnham, and Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) naturally save the day. The usual science team back on the ship impresses their new Starfleet overseer with dysfunctional but effective problem solving. Eventually, they discover that the Seed Ship’s problems stem from a radiation burst with peculiar effects on the ship’s caretakers. Burnham, in turn, has a hard talk with the ship’s sole survivor and convinces him to give up the code that will deliver the sample they need. Nhan, however, chooses to stay behind to comfort her fellow Barzan and walk him through their culture’s different view of death rather than force him off the ship and away from his family in deference to Federation mores.
It’s a choice that doesn’t quite land with the emotional force that it should, given that Nhan’s barely been a character up to this point (outside of an execrable declaration of “Yum Yum” in last season’s finale). But the spirit is there, of balancing what’s important about the Federation and its ideals against the other communities we hold dear that possess their own equally valid rites and principles.
The move is enough to impress Admiral Vance and convince him of the Discovery’s mettle and moral fortitude. Burnham and company are welcomed into the fleet, not relegated to being commandeered and mined for parts, but instead as a distinct and complete whole. The exchanges that follow—with a metaphor about the start of the European Renaissance and art allowing people to “look up”—are both a little too cute and a little too much. But the conclusion is a sound one: The crew of the Discovery can, with pluck, principle, and inspiration, still manage to hang onto their ideals in an uncertain future, and to one another.
“Die Trying” itself follows that effort to adapt the old into the new. It mixes a broader devotion to an ongoing arc and continuing themes that hew toward the conventions of modern television, with the type of one-off challenges and character concerns that drove the Star Trek stories of old. As with the Discovery itself meeting this new futuristic fleet, the fit isn’t always a perfect one, but there’s promise in the effort.
- During the episode, Mirror Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is rattled by none other than David Cronenberg, who plays a mysterious Starfleet operative who succeeds in making her feel uncharacteristically powerless while zeroing in on her not-so-hidden attachments. Their scenes are a touch overwritten, but it’s an intriguing dynamic and casting decision!
- The other debriefs are tons of fun as well, poking gentle fun at the absurdity of the crew’s adventures up to this point and nicely cutting together some amusing gags and one-liners into the resulting montage.
- Admiral Vance harbors particular concern given that the Discovery’s time travel could violate the accords forged after the recent Temporal Wars. So hello Star Trek: Enterprise fans! (All 12 of you.)
- The Treknobabble dialogue when the Discovery reaches the new Federation outpost is nice enough, but what really sells the emotion of the homecoming is the score, which swells and hits just the right amount of familiar melodies to earn how big this moment should feel.
- Saru gives Lt. Nilsson (Sara Mitch) the conn when he and Michael depart, which feels a little weird considering the character’s had maybe five lines over the course of the series.
- I’d bet dollars to donuts that the strangely common lullaby, with a tune floating around in the ether (shades of Battlestar Galactica), turns out to be the key to solving the mystery of The Burn.
- Starfleet’s new command ship is tended to by a holographic A.I. physician — the legacy of Voyager’s EMH lives on!