So much has happened in the rebooted Star Trek universe since we left the Discovery crew last April. Section 31 and Strange New Worlds are in preproduction. Earlier this year, Picard did … all that. And over the past few months, Lower Decks has done basically whatever it wanted, in a way that, for better or worse, has injected a breath of fresh, irreverent air into an otherwise brutal time.
But all this while the fate of our flagship nerd gang has weighed on my mind. This season was always going to be do or die, literally and figuratively, even before the events of this year sent the world into chaos. Finally Discovery was actually going where no one has gone before, rather than filling in the gaps of where others have been going for over a half-century. It’s finally able to grow, unfettered by entrenched canon or unnecessary blockbuster aspirations (or unnecessary white guys — did y’all even see one this week?), into a series that will succeed or fail as a Star Trek show on its own merits. And now? In this economy? Not to be dramatic, but the world really needs Star Trek to be great right now.
So at the outset of the premiere, Michael Burnham (“Science Officer, USS Discovery, serial number SC0064-0974SHN”) scans the seemingly barren planet, where she has crash-landed, for signs of life. After a moment, her Daedalus suit’s computer chirps: “Multiple life signs detected.” That scream of relief and triumph that comes out of Sonequa Martin-Green’s mouth here? That’s the only natural way to respond to this episode. Because after the dense, chaotic struggles of last season, “The Hope Is You, Part 1” is everything it needed to be. It’s exciting; it’s beautiful; it’s funny as hell; it made me full-on sob at the end. And I have no idea what’s going to happen next. Isn’t that great? We made it through the wormhole, and there’s life on the other side.
Well, Burnham has, at least. Discovery is TBD. She collides with a ship on her way into 3188, so after getting no response from Discovery and sending the suit back to the 23rd century to set the last signal for Spock, she goes looking for him. The pilot is a very good-looking, very distrustful rogue named Book (short for Cleveland Booker) who is in the middle of transporting some clandestine, extremely valuable stolen cargo and wants absolutely nothing to do with Michael. (I don’t blame him; it is a little like she and her idealism came through the wormhole from the spring of 2019, while Book is everyone living through 2020.) However, he is “space broke,” and her offer of a mint-condition, 930-year-old antique tricorder finally sways him into taking her with him to Requiem, the city where he gets work as a courier, to find a comms array to contact Discovery. En route, he reveals several critical new realities that send Michael reeling:
After the Temporal War, during which the Gorn destroyed a whopping two light-years of subspace, all time-travel technology was expressly banned, so her presence here is already sus. (Don’t worry, only fans of Star Trek: Enterprise will already know anything about this 31st-century conflict.)
Dilithium is now the most precious commodity in the known universe, thanks to a massive disaster known as the Burn, when the “galaxy took a hard left” and nearly all dilithium suddenly exploded, killing millions on warp-capable ships.
Thanks to the Burn, the Federation is virtually nonexistent now, presumably having disintegrated into protectionism in the face of the ensuing resource crisis, so she needs to conceal her “true believer” status in this unfriendly new world.
Requiem and its mercantile were ripped straight out of the nearest cyberpunk franchise, with a splash of surly Mos Eisley Cantina clientele. Apparently, the Andorians and the Orions have allied now, and they run the joint with a decidedly inconsistent hand, first failing to stop Michael at the doors for not having ID (her merchandise is way too valuable to pass up), then flubbing her arrest when Book betrays her by telling her their vault is the comms array and letting her walk into a stasis beam, freeing him to take the rest of her tech. (Yes, yes, we get it: He’s Lando and Han.) They dose her with some vaporized cross between truth serum and poppers to get her to tell them where her merchandise is, which almost goes well. She probably would have told them anyway, but the next few minutes are way more fun and stress free now that our Vulcan-raised xenoanthropologist is absolutely zooted.
“I’m dying to talk about it because today doesn’t happen to people. Ever,” she gushes to her new best friends, Orion Cop and Andorian Cop. “I might be angry. I mean, I’m supportive. I’m so supportive. I am reflexively supportive. And what is that about? I’m overcompensating!!” Eventually, she leads them to the real culprit, Book, who is already getting his teeth kicked in by the guy he stole his secret cargo from, a literal Middle Earth orc named Cosmo. Suddenly, Burnham and Book are surrounded by people who want to kill Book but will settle on her, since they need him alive to recover the cargo. That “LMAO let’s go, I guess” shrug Burnham gives Book before they wordlessly team up and start shooting their way out together added at least a few days on to my life. It’s the same look on my face every time a new disaster strolls into our already flaming hellscape.
Somehow amid the cross-fire chaos, Book activates his personal transporter and Burnham steals a bunch of dilithium to get Book to take her with him. Thus begins an incredibly cool sequence during which these glorified mall cops chase our heroes through rapid-fire landscapes across this frankly gorgeous planet. Burnham punches Book several times, which seems more than fair.
Long story short, the escape brings out a new side of Book: He’s actually kind of a softboi. That is, he’s not human; he has some sort of spiritual, empathic connection with living things that helps him, for example, instantly grow plants with healing properties to dress Michael’s gunshot wound. Or encourage the endangered, walrus-size worm he’s rescuing to eat the capitalists who want to sell it as a delicacy, but please do spit out our new friend — she’s cool. “I really, really didn’t know how this day was going to turn out!” Michael sputters after being projectile-vomited back up, covered in what might, unfortunately, be digested Andorian.
So now we know Book is pretty cool — his people are poachers, and he’s the outcast who wants to use their gifts to rescue endangered creatures rather than sell them. And apparently he’s decided Burnham is pretty cool, too, because he finally asks her how far in time she’s traveled, lets her try contacting Discovery using the comms array he’s had in his pocket this whole time, and then, when that fails, takes her to an old Federation relay station couriers now use as a waypoint. Cue the waterworks …
Here, she meets Aditya Sahil, the Desmond-esque Starfleet liaison who, as we briefly saw in the cold open, has been getting up and going to work for 40 years, all alone, waiting for the day a Federation officer finally showed up. Michael introduces herself — by name, rank, and serial number — and I’ll be damned if I didn’t well up at the look on this dude’s face as he stands up to offer her his assistance. He can’t locate Discovery, but he only has a sensor range of about 30 sectors, because long-range sensors “failed decades ago” — another crushing reminder of all they’ve lost. Worst of all, it’s clear that Discovery is probably not here yet, which means Michael might find them tomorrow — or she might never see them again. This is the new reality she’s going to have to live with: no Federation, no family, and no end in sight.
But, as Sahil puts it, his faith has already been rewarded: “That hope is you, Commander Burnham.” He admits that while his father and grandfather were commissioned Starfleet officers, there was no one to commission him — and thus no one who could raise the Starfleet flag. As I full-on sob over here, Burnham commissions him as her communications chief to continue the search for Discovery, and they raise the flag together. “I don’t know how much of the Federation still exists. I simply do my part to keep it alive,” Sahil says, fully restoring my will to live. “Our numbers are few. Our spirit is undiminished.”
Maybe we’ll get through this nightmare after all.
Personal Log, Supplemental
• SPACECAT SPACECAT SPACECAT. Book’s giant Maine coon, Grudge — so named because she’s heavy and all his — is indeed a queen. My sci-fi senses are tingling vis-à-vis this catte and how we’ve been introduced to her. Getting a strong Goose vibe here.
• How delightful is it to watch a character who already lives in our far future suddenly become a Luddite? Michael’s unabashed wonder at Book’s responsive ship tech, personal transporters, and sonic blasters adds a meta layer of excitement to the mix (not to mention makes me miss Tilly a lot).
• Book mentions needing a dilithium recrystallizer, which is very interesting, given that last season we met the girl who invented it. Taking bets now on whether this knowledge will come into play later on.