Burnham and Georgiou track down another clue to the Burn, while the former reevaluates their true place on the Discovery.
Remember that middle act of Star Trek Into Darkness, where Kirk and crew donned leather jackets and basically did some Star Wars cosplay on a junkyard-like version of the Klingon homeworld? It seems that Star Trek Discovery, with its newfound setting of a renegade future with criminal gangs and a fractured Starfleet, is flirting with the same mishmash of tones. This week’s episode, “Scavengers,” cements that with a decent, if derivative, prison-break adventure, while also smartly tearing Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) loyalties between the crew she loves and the future she’s become accustomed to.
It’s been three weeks since the last episode, and we’re already retrofitting the Discovery to fit the more advanced 31st-century vibe of the rest of Starfleet. (We’re even rechristening the Discovery NCC-1031-A, which doesn’t make sense since it’s just a retrofit, but whatever.) After their success in last week’s adventure, they’re integrating more seamlessly into the new version of the fleet, becoming their new rapid-response vessel on account of the spore drive making them the only real ship capable of interstellar travel. They get cute new ovular badges (which also serve as tricorders and PADDs), their consoles have gloopy programmable matter, and they’ve got new personal, portable transporters — which Saurian officer Linus just can’t stop abusing throughout the ship.
But not everything is roses: Book’s (David Njala) ship drifts into Starfleet’s distortion field, empty except for his cute li’l flood Grudge and a message: he’s been looking for a ‘black box’ from a Starfleet ship that was destroyed in the Burn — a potential lead to the point of origin — and has a lead on one from a Bajoran salvage yard run by the criminal gang Emerald Chain. In all likelihood, he’s captured, and needs their help to escape. Burnham, who spent a year with the guy (and clearly carries a torch), wants to help, but now-Captain Saru (Doug Jones) warns against it: he needs his new First Officer more than ever, as a critical situation on another planet might require their response. Not only that, they’re still proving themselves to this new, more skeptical Starfleet.
Still, Burnham won’t be deterred, instead going to the only other person on the ship she can count on to misbehave: Phillippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). Together, they sneak off with Book’s ship and head to the planet where Book is likely captured. When they get there, they find a Starfleet scrapyard (eagle-eyed viewers will notice previous show designs like the Hiawatha and the Buran floating both in and out of the atmosphere), with the Orion and Andorian slave-drivers forcing laborers to work under threat of death from a little chip in their necks that will blow them up if they escape the perimeter, Suicide Squad-style.
All told, it’s a rollicking prison-break adventure that follows the typical beats: waltz in in leather jackets and bluff the baddies into thinking you’re on their side, inevitably get caught and have to fight your way out, stage a riot with the other prisoners, complete with nail-biting countdowns about whether Burnham can get the perimeter down in time. It’s all delivered with the same high-budget, but formulaic panache the series is known for. Georgiou smarms her way through every line, the explosions are big and brassy, and there’s lots of shooting and shouting abound.
But the more important storytelling beats in the episode lie underneath the A-plot adventure, in Burnham’s motivations to abandon her crew in their time of need, and what that might mean for the Discovery and its mission in the future. She’s someone who spent a whole year away from the Discovery, finding a home with Book (who’s definitely scorching hot, though hasn’t quite built up much of a personality yet), only to find herself thrust right back into a status quo she hadn’t lived for a long time. She tries to reacclimate to life on the ship — even becoming Saru’s First Officer — but once Book comes calling she’s pulled back into a life she grew accustomed to (and may even, as a Freudian slip indicates, love). “Scavengers”, then, becomes a story about Burnham’s gradual acceptance of her alienation from the crew, culminating in a heartbreaking scene where Saru rescinds her First Officer status.
Season 3’s been all about whether you can reassemble the Federation in a world that saw little need of it anymore; what’s there, under the command of Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr), is wearied and tired. It’s all about the practicality of an idealistic institution when the rest of the universe thinks it impractical. Discovery, we’re told, is that spark of hope for a brighter future — the ideal that the dream of the Federation can live through even the most cynical times. Let’s hope so.
- Give me an entire show of Tilly (Mary Wiseman) and Grudge just sharing quarters together. Just gimme it.
- Love the big blobby captain in the big Starfleet meeting with Vance — normalize big rubber alien heads in command positions!
- Between Detmer and Georgiou, this season of Discovery is going all-in with the ‘supporting character is suddenly haunted by something the audience isn’t 100% clear on yet’ motif. For the latter, perhaps it’s the realization from last week that the Mirror Universe might be completely destroyed? But something is clearly physically happening to her, on account of her shutdown during the big climactic brawl. Still, Georgiou would be the last person to admit that something hinky was going on.
- Are the flashes she sees flashbacks to her life in the Mirror Universe? She says “son” at one point, and we see a bloodied hand; what could they mean? And will they likely play into her Section 31-centric spinoff? We’ll find out.
- Adira (Blu del Barrio) and Stamets (Anthony Rapp) bond this week over their not-quite-dead lovers, which is sweet enough (and gives us a lovely bedroom chat between Stamets and Culber (Wilson Cruz)). Still, I kinda wish that there could be a queer couple on the show that isn’t marred by tragic death and the need to miraculously reverse it.
- I continue to be in awe of Captain Saru, whose considered and empathetic leadership is something we could sorely use right now. He’s not an alpha-male tyrant but instead exerts authority through understanding — taking Tilly’s concerns seriously and laying down the law on Burnham’s insubordination, however difficult it may be. If the pattern holds, he may well end up one of the best captains in Star Trek history, even if it took a long time to get there.