Discovery‘s third-season finale is an episode that alternates excessive, choppy, overwrought, and interminable action sequences with a Trekkian plot that would be perfectly fine if not for all the arbitrary technobabble and junk-science extras that are bolted onto it to explain other things. This is a mess for 50 minutes, and then exceedingly tidy for 10.
This is also an episode that cements (although it was pretty clear by the time "Su’Kal" got here) that this season is barely about anything it seemed to be when it started. The season started as "Rebuild the Fallen Federation!" (The cover art had Burnham holding a tattered Federation flag on a barren planet.) But then a few episodes later, in "Die Trying" (the season’s best episode) it became "Rediscover the Current Diminished Federation!" Now, at the end of the season, it’s "Kill Osyraa!" The season gradually went from potentially grand to painfully reductive and unambitious.
"There Is a Tide" tries to do what should’ve been done many episodes ago: some world-building within this century. It may be too little, too late, but I guess I’d rather see it attempted rather than not seeing it at all.
After having exploited Tilly’s tactical weaknesses and seizing Discovery, Osyraa takes the ship back to Starfleet Headquarters, where she uses the subterfuge to get inside the base’s shield perimeter where she demands … an audience for peaceful negotiation. I admit I did not see that coming. Turns out there’s more to Osyraa than previous episodes — in which she, say, fed her nephew to giant worms — had indicated. She wants to form an alliance between the Federation and the Emerald Chain, providing a new economic model for the Federation through its mercantiles in exchange for access to Discovery‘s spore drive, which she believes the Emerald Chain has the scientific resources to reverse-engineer and mass produce. This could be a benefit for the entire galaxy, possibly solving a lot of problems posed by everyone’s dilithium shortage.
"Su’Kal" would be a reasonably okay sci-fi story in the standalone tradition of Star Trek if the circumstances were different. This is an alien contact within a holographic simulation that has some things to recommend, including notable atmosphere and characters trying to use psychology and storytelling to communicate with someone who has endured a lifetime of isolation. The problem is, this is tied into the season’s central mystery of the Burn in a way that’s crushingly disappointing. (At least, so far. Specifics are not yet revealed, although I can’t imagine any technobabble explanation could salvage this general idea.)
I’m reminded of DS9‘s "Extreme Measures," in which a big piece of the fate of the Dominion War was riding on a virtual-reality probe to explore the mind of Section 31 operative Sloan, but the device was mostly used as an excuse to give O’Brien and Bashir one last buddy adventure. The idea of one last buddy adventure was fine, but the vehicle was inappropriate and the timing was terrible.
When you have the audacity to connect your story to a piece of Trekkian lore as iconic as the Guardian of Forever, the device at the center of "The City on the Edge of Forever," one of the most heralded episodes in the entire canon, you’re probably asking for trouble. You’d better put up or shut up.
They probably should’ve shut up. Or just not used the Guardian of Forever.
I’ll give them this: They tried. They put a character dilemma front and center and played it all the way through. But in the end this is oh-so-earnest, and overplayed, and frankly unearned. But we’ll get there.
"Terra Firma, Part 1" works best if you think of it as the universe trying to teach its central character a lesson, like Groundhog Day did to Bill Murray. The mirror universe version of Philippa Georgiou, who has been a fish out of her universe’s water since she was brought over in the first season, has been walking around the corridors of Discovery for the past two seasons acting mostly like an insufferable jerk who is more caricature than character.
That caricature has at times been amusing (the one-liners are sometimes creative, and her aversion to all things Starfleet makes her an occasionally useful outside voice, when she’s not merely insulting everybody), but it has also become very repetitive and started to wear thin of late. But I’m suspecting now her unremitting abrasiveness this season was a deliberate ploy to set us up for this episode where she has to face the music.