"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.
Maybe I’m getting to that point in the season where my enthusiasm starts to taper off, but "The Sanctuary" really didn’t do much for me. It’s … meh. Although there are some good things spread across the ensemble here, the core of it is the epitome of mediocrity. Even though it fell short, last week’s "Unification III" at least tried to be an ambitious Star Trek episode with compelling dialogue. This week’s episode doesn’t seem to be trying to do anything at all, except recycle generic action sci-fi scenes.
Let’s start with the main plot. While I appreciate the attempt to do some world-building in this century outside the immediate orbit of Starfleet Headquarters, the concept of the Emerald Chain, the evil Orion crime syndicate, is an off-the-shelf bore led by an off-the-shelf boring villain. After his labor camp was liberated in "Scavengers," Tolor (Ian Lake) has fallen into ill standing with his syndicate boss/aunt, Osyraa (Janet Kidder), who promptly feeds him to a large creature — because if you want your villain to read as Real Bad, make sure they kill one of their own for failure. Yawn.
Naming your episode "Unification III" is a risky gambit, because it implies it’s a sequel to TNG‘s "Unification" parts I and II, in which Spock famously crossed over from TOS and appeared on TNG in an effort to bring the Vulcan and Romulan people together. On the other hand, given how average "Unification" itself ended up being, with its hype far exceeding what it actually accomplished as a story (which was, frankly, not much), maybe "Unification III" didn’t have that high a bar to clear.
I gotta say, I liked this episode, up to a point. There are things I genuinely admired about it. It manages to blend a completely personal story (Burnham’s crisis of self-identity, forcing her to confront herself) with a major Star Trek mythology piece (the status of the Vulcans and Romulans in the 32nd century) and also tie that into the season arcs involving the state of the Federation and the mystery of the Burn. This is accomplished with what may also be the most ambitiously dialogue-heavy episode of the series, which plays like a high-wire tightrope act threading the needle’s eye of intellectualism and emotionalism. A lot of things come together in some deft scenes of dialogue. At times, I found this compelling. Will it walk the tightrope or fall off?
Booker’s vessel — minus Book, but not his cat — appears at Starfleet Headquarters. A recording left by Book details his discovery of a "black box" from a starship destroyed in the Burn, found in the slave labor regions run by the Orion/Andorian syndicate, where Book has gone missing and may now be held captive. Such a black box could be a key piece of evidence in understanding how, and perhaps from where, the Burn originated. This is a mystery very much on Burnham’s mind, and she wants to undertake a rescue mission to find her missing friend as well as this black box of possible evidence.
The catch: Admiral Vance needs Discovery on standby for something more urgent to the greater good of Starfleet, so Saru can’t sanction a mission for one man (who, by the way, isn’t even a member of Discovery‘s crew), even if it might shed light on the Burn. So Burnham decides to go rogue and disobey a direct order to rescue Book. She recruits Georgiou ("You had me at unsanctioned mission") to help her.
There’s a lot to unpack in the dense and ambitious "Die Trying," which is easily the best episode of the third season so far and among Discovery‘s best outings, and possibly its most balanced to date. This show tries to do a lot of things, and it ends up doing most of them very well. There’s promising stuff here.
If “Forget Me Not” was a good example of Discovery dialing it down and acting like classic Trek, "Die Trying" is more in line with Discovery‘s own true DNA. But it has figured out how to balance the formula and blend its more modern sensibilities with the classic ones. It does this in a story where Discovery reaches the 32nd-century joint Starfleet/Federation headquarters where they meet Admiral Charles Vance (Oded Fehr), who debriefs them on some current happenings, but has numerous questions for the crew of such an old ship.