Previously: Burnham and her Red Angel suit arrived 930 years in the future and crashed into a spaceship belonging to a nice courier gentleman named Book. She learned the Federation is gone because all the dilithium went boom 100 years ago. Then the crew of the Discovery arrived and learned pretty much the same thing from a not-so-nice courier named Zareh. Burnham came to Discovery’s last-minute rescue, and it turns out she’s been in the future a year longer than the rest of her crew.
Before we get started, I have just one thing to say: People of Earth! …How are you?
We open with another overwritten personal log from Burnham. It sounds like a message she’s recorded for her friends on Discovery in the event that she never finds them again. She talks in vague terms about what she’s learned about the breakup of the Federation and what’s happened to her over the past year. She explains that 700 years ago, dilithium deposits dried up, then the Burn happened, and all dilithium went inert. This caused any ship with an active warp drive to explode, and we get helpful animation of that.
Burnham doesn’t want “this version of the future” to stand, so she became a courier just like Book. This allowed her to search for clues to what caused the Burn, and we watch her at another alien marketplace getting an Epi-Pen like device bearing the registry NCC-4774.
Then there’s a montage of Burnham checking her communicator for any sign of Discovery, while her hair gets longer, and then longer still, until it finally reaches the length we saw at the end of last episode. Burnham talks about how she’s different now. She still loves everybody on her old crew but she’s learned “You can love someone and still let them go.” She says this whole world “feels like a dream”, which is followed by a random slow-mo shot of a man punching her in the face.
It turns out to be a combat holo-simulation on Book’s ship. Okay, well, that makes… sense? She talks about how she’s found a “friend” in Book, and then— her soliloquy is cut off when her communicator chirps and she gasps in shock.
Cut to her beaming onto Discovery and being reunited with the crew. There’s lots of tears and hugging, and in the middle of this, Burnham spots Georgiou sulking in the background, because hugging and crying really aren’t her thing, and Burnham just nods to her.
In the corridor, Saru and Burnham walk and talk as Saru explains how the crew’s been dealing with things as best they can. Didn’t they arrive in the future like a day ago? Two days, tops? Burnham says she sent a transmission to Terralysium, but there was no sign of her mom, who was supposed to rendezvous with here in the future. She tells Saru about her new friend Book. And his full name is… “Cleveland Booker”. Okay, I’m pretty sure that’s the name of the superintendent from Good Times. And if it turns out this is not the case, it’s some Mandela Effect alternate timeline shit where it changed on me. Burnham says he’s not from Earth, so there must be a “story” behind the name Cleveland Booker, but in the year they’ve been together she somehow never got it out of him.
On the bridge, Burnham is explaining the Burn to everybody. Stamets doesn’t think it’s possible that all dilithium in known space could blow up simultaneously, and Georgiou quips, “Says a man who jumps a starship through mushroom space!” Detmer wants to know how many people died, and Burnham says it was likely in the millions, and Detmer starts crying. Is this part of the whole What’s Wrong with Detmer story arc? I can’t tell. Burnham says she captured a transmission from an old Starfleet channel, sent 12 years ago by “Admiral Sennal Tal”. She plays the tape and it’s Tal inviting anyone who hears the sound of his voice to join him on Earth because “The Federation lives on.” Burnham says that up until now, Earth was out of reach, but now that Discovery’s here with the spore drive, they can pay a visit.
Saru wants to talk to Burnham in private about who gets to be captain now that she’s back. But Burnham doesn’t even consider taking command. She tells Saru, “it’s you” and “I don’t know if it’s ever been me”. She says he deserves it because he “carried this crew on your shoulders.” For like a day or two. Also, why is this even a question? Wasn’t Saru the Discovery’s First Officer under Lorca, then Pike? It seems pretty obvious he should be captain now. Meaningful music plays as Burnham calls Saru a “captain in the truest sense of the word” and says the chair is his. Saru sits down and gives a speech about how “fitting” and “prescient” the name Discovery is, because they’re here to discover the future, and to “make that future bright”. He says they should get started on that now, and everyone responds in unison [?], “Aye, captain!”
After credits, more of those 2001-like pods and chubby robots are fixing Discovery’s hull. Tilly is at a wall that’s covered in the badges of all their fallen crewmen. Burnham walks up and Tilly talks about how they haven’t had time to say goodbye to the people they lost. Even worse, they didn’t have time to say goodbye to their families, and it’s just now hitting Tilly that her whole family lived entire lives and died centuries ago.
She’s hoping when they get to Earth they might see stuff they recognize, like the Gateway Arch or the Giza Pyramids or “hummingbird cake”. Burnham assures her that “Cake is eternal.” Tilly said she’s had an image in her head of Burnham blowing on a dandelion and “the seeds, they… go? You let us go, didn’t you?” How long did Tillly have this image in her head? Again, from her perspective, she just saw Burnham one or two days ago. They cry and hug and Tilly goes, “Time travel, man!” Yeah, man. Everything is different, but the same… Things are more… moderner than before.
Book transports aboard and gets welcomed by Georgiou, who’s playing the role of overprotective parent and wanting to know the man who’s been “gallivanting” around space with her precious Michael. She asks if Michael’s his girlfriend, and he denies it. So we’ve got two young, single, attractive people all alone on a spaceship for a year and nothing happened between them? There’s nothing like the lusty, libertine future of the 32nd Century, I guess.
Cut to Book and Michael staring at Discovery’s dilithium stash and Book is drooling all over himself, saying Discovery could rule a sector with this much of the pink stuff. She hands over a big chunk of it while Book asks if she feels like she’s “home” again. She says it’s “familiar, but… far away”. He reminds her that she doesn’t owe the crew anything, because she already came through a wormhole for them. Didn’t they all come through the wormhole to support her?
She reminds him he’s welcome to stay on Discovery, but I guess he’s got more giant slugs to save. However, Burnham knows Discovery will be a target for its dilithium, and she needs him to stay just a bit longer to help them hide all the dilithium.
In Saru’s ready room, Burnham explains how they can load all their dilithium onto Book’s ship and cloak it, and Saru is understandably hesitant about giving all their Crystal D to a stranger. He’s also a little skeptical of Burnham’s motives, since she didn’t even consider taking over as captain. He wants her to be his “Number One”, but needs to know where her head is at. She says she’s spent a year adapting to this wild future, and she just needs “time” to readjust to being back on the ship.
Cut to Book’s ship entering the shuttle bay and cloaking itself. Book then steps onto the bridge and gets to stand next to Burnham at her station as they make the jump to Earth. Saru orders a Black Alert and we get the usual spore drive effect where the ship flips around and drops into the vicinity of Saturn. Book yells out, “Oh shit! Hey, you didn’t tell me about the spinning part!”
And then ten seconds later, they’re at Earth. Keep in mind, they’ve already hidden all their dilithium and presumably no longer have a functional warp drive, and Saturn’s about 900 million miles from Earth, so that sublight impulse drive must really be something.
They spot satellites in Earth orbit that generate a force field that surround the whole planet. Some ships come up from the surface and Discovery gets hailed by Captain Ndoye of the United Earth Defense Force. She orders them to leave Earth immediately.
Saru tells her they’re members of Starfleet, and their ship was on a classified information. In fact, they’re “descendants of its original crew”. But Ndoye’s not buying this absurd story, because a Whatever Analysis of the hull shows that the ship dates between the 23rd and 25th centuries. She tells the Discovery crew that they shall now be subject to a “mandatory inspection”. Saru says they’ll prepare for that, but the inspection is happening now, and Ndoye’s people transport aboard the ship instantly, much to the annoyance of Stamets in Engineering.
In Burnham’s quarters, Burnham tells Book they’ll both have to put on Starfleet uniforms to blend in, and we get another meaningful moment when she puts her badge on. Book thinks this was Burnham’s plan all along to see him in the uniform.
Burnham walks through the corridor with Georgiou, who’s decided to disguise herself as an admiral, because why not? Burnham is totally confused about why Georgiou is still on Discovery, and Georgiou says she could ask the same of Burnham. She knows Michael has tasted the freedom of the non-Starfleet life, and she knows Discovery no longer feels like where she belongs.
Saru and Burnham are in Saru’s ready room, talking things over with Captain Ndoye. Ndoye says that these days, Earth is under constant attack from dilithium raiders, and the latest one is a guy named “Wen” who’s been relentless about it. Saru says that all they want to do is check in with “Starfleet Command”, but Ndoye breaks the news that Earth left the Federation a century ago, and Starfleet Headquarters is no longer on Earth. She says having Starfleet HQ on Earth made the planet a target, so Starfleet left to places unknown and now United Earth is taking care of themselves. Wait, after the Xindi attack, multiple Borg attacks, the Dominion War, and who knows what else happened in the intervening 900 years, they just now realized that having Starfleet HQ on Earth made it a target? Burnham asks about Admiral Senna Tal… and learns he died two years ago.
In Engineering, a United Earth Defense Forces guy opens up a device that looks like a blue flower, which releases drones that scan the whole section. Stamets is enraged by this intrusion, and he also notices a young UEDF girl snooping around and asks what she’s doing. She says she’s 16 years old, and she’s some sort of wunderkind, because she intuits all sorts of things about the spore chamber just by looking at it. The guy with the blue flower shuts her down, telling “Adira” they’re only here to do an inspection. And Adira is played by Blu del Barrio, an actor who identifies as non-binary, and much was made of Adira being Star Trek’s first character of non-binary gender (if you don’t count TNG’s “The Outcast”). But in this episode, everyone refers to Adira as “her” and “she”, so that’s what I’m going with until further notice.
Just then, the Red Alert siren goes off. On the bridge, they detect the approach of Wen’s raiders. Nyode is on the bridge and she recommends blowing them out of the sky, but Saru ignores her and hails Wen. He turns out to be an alien with a big insectoid head. He demands their dilithium, and Nyode is basically “y’all are screwed” and orders all her people to leave the ship. However, something is blocking them from beaming out, and Saru denies that anyone on Discovery is sabotaging their transporters.
In the mess hall, Burnham finds Book and brings up various past exploits of theirs. Namely, she says they need to do what they did on “Donatu Seven”, and Book wonders if she needs permission from the captain, but Burnham says they’ll do it and get permission after.
In Engineering, Stamets and Tilly find a device that’s blocking the transporters. Stamets says that’s where that “tween menace” was hanging around. They wonder why Adira would want to trap her own people onboard the ship.
On the bridge, the crew detects that Book’s ship is leaving the shuttlebay with all their dilithium. Saru can’t believe Burnham would execute some sort of plan without consulting him, but Georgiou says that Burnham is now all about doing things her own way and Saru is just in the way. Ndoye wants Book’s ship destroyed so Wen can’t get all that dilithium, but Saru is obviously not cool with this.
On Book’s ship, they’re discussing more alleged past exploits, including the “Orion Tango” and “Radok Sien”. All this stuff happened in the last year, huh? Wen hails them, and Burnham wants to make a deal: They’ll give him all of Discovery’s dilithium in exchange for Wen leaving Earth alone.
Ndoye orders Earth defenses to destroy Book’s ship, but Saru refuses to fire back on Earth. Instead, he’s going to put Discovery between Book’s ship and the Earth weapons. Detmer, who Something is Still Wrong With, is skittish about doing this, but Owo insists that their shields will hold. Discovery blocks the weapons fire, and it turns out just a couple of blasts from these 32nd Century weapons are all it takes to knock out Discovery’s shields completely. Who could have seen this coming?
On Book’s ship, Burnham tells Wen that the next shot will destroy Discovery, which is the only thing standing between Wen’s raiders and Earth defenses. She tells him he had better take the dilithium now while he still can, and he agrees and prepares to lower shields, and I think we all know what’s coming next.
Book and Burnham immediately show up on Discovery’s bridge with Wen as their prisoner. They say that Wen’s raiders won’t attack as long as they have him, which is mighty convenient. Burnham says Wen and Nyode need to talk, and we cut to them arguing in the ready room. Wen complains that Earth is hoarding all the dilithium and doesn’t want to share. After some more bickering, Georgiou goes over and kicks Wen in the leg, knocking off his helmet, revealing that he’s human underneath. Yep, they went with the Scooby-Doo ending. How did Georgiou know he was human? Also, wouldn’t Book and Burnham have known that he was human when they beamed him aboard? In light of the revelation that Wen is really Old Man Withers, Saru says it’s time for the two of them to start really listening to each other.
Meanwhile, Stamets finds Adira in a Jeffries tube, saying he knows everything she did. He knows she’s responsible for the sabotage to the Earth forces’ transporters, and she knows she’s been poking around and trying to understand the spore chamber. So he tells her the whole story: The magic mushrooms are used for FTL travel, he’s the human navigator, and also, they’re all from the year 2258. Adira says that explains a lot. She says she only joined the UEDF in the hopes of encountering a Federation starship someday, and she sabotaged the transporters to buy more time for herself. In fact, she wants to come along with them. And what’s more, she knows Admiral Senna Tal, and he’s still alive.
Back in the ready room, we learn Wen and his raiders are really from a former colony on Saturn’s moon Titan. They split off from Earth 100 years ago, but some accident happened and destroyed most of their habitat and now the place is “barely livable”. Wen says they went to Earth looking for help but their ships were destroyed, so they decided to try the alternate strategy of disguising themselves as alien dilithium raiders instead, which… um, what? Seems like they could have tried a couple of times to put out an SOS before going full pirate here. It’s entirely possible to send a simple radio signal from Titan that can be picked up on Earth in the year 2020, but then again, Earth is the same place where nobody could be bothered to keep monitoring for Voyager 6’s radio transmissions. Also, if the Titanians are having trouble just surviving, how are they able to build ships powerful enough to get past Earth defenses and steal dilithium?
Burnham asks Ndoye if Earth can help Titan rebuild, and she’ll consider it, and we can see this is the dawn of a new age of peace and understanding between zzzzzzzz….
Cut to an observation deck or something where Ndoye and Adira are looking down at Earth. Saru shows up and Ndoye says Saru’s crew can beam down to the surface and visit Earth if they want. Also, Adira has permission to remain on Discovery. Ndoye beams out, and Saru asks if Admiral Tal is really alive. Adira says “sort of”, adding, “I am Admiral Tal.”
In the ready room, Saru tells Burnham that Adira is a human joined with a Trill symbiont. And keeping some sort of semi-consistency with the TNG episode “The Host” (which, by the way, had a prominent role for the director of the current episode, Jonathan Frakes), both Saru and Burnham are unaware that Trills even have symbionts. But Saru has done a deep dive into the 100,000-year-old cache of Sphere data to learn about the species. He says Adira is having trouble accessing all of Tal’s memories, likely because she’s human, but somewhere in those memories is an explanation of what happened to Starfleet.
Saru then unpacks Georgiou’s telescope (the prime Georgiou), which was recovered from the wreck of the Shenzhou all the way back in season 1. He says he needs to be able to trust Burnham, but Burnham says she’s seen some shit in that long, long year she was away from them. In fact, she had already let go of the idea of ever seeing them again, and now she needs time to deal with them being back. But she says that despite all that, she wants to be his Number One.
Cut to Burnham saying farewell to Book. He’s not sticking around, but it seems he’s grateful for being able to get a new start here in the Alpha Quadrant. They both say “’Til next time,” and that’s that. Burnham goes to the bridge, where Saru is looking down at what used to be Starfleet Academy. He gave everyone permission to beam down and visit, but Burnham says she’d rather admire the view up here with Saru.
Down on the surface, Tilly and the gang go and hug a tree. We learn they all used to study under this tree, which is massive now. Saru calls them back, but Tilly says they need five more minutes to bask in the treeness of it all. The camera pulls back, revealing the far future version of the San Francisco Bay.
This was a better episode than the previous one, in that most of the dumb, cringy dialogue was kept to a minimum. But the worldbuilding was disappointingly shallow. They made it all the way to Earth and we barely know anything about what’s going on there, other than Earth left the Federation and they’re strictly isolationist now.
You’d think the United Earth government would want Discovery to stick around, just so they could learn about classified events from 1,000 years ago, not to mention pick their brains about the spore drive and an alternate source of FTL travel to help return the planet to its former glories. And wouldn’t the crew of Discovery want to stay a while to learn what happened to Starfleet, how the Burn happened, or even to look up what became of their families? Instead, after a couple of hours in orbit, United Earth leaves a teenager on the ship as their sole emissary and sends Discovery on their merry way.
And the tearful reunion between Burnham and crew might have been a tad bit more affecting if they hadn’t just seen her yesterday.
Next time: The trailer is too vague to get a bead on next week’s story, but it seems Adira and Burnham will be paying a visit to a Trill monastery to do some Trill stuff.