Star Trek #1514: People of Earth

CAPTAIN'S LOG: Discovery heads for 32nd-Century Earth.

WHY WE LIKE IT: The Star Trek messaging is on point.

WHY WE DON'T: Come on Burnham, it was only a year.

REVIEW: I will start with what bugged me about the episode and that's the audience manipulation. Sorry Jonathan Frakes, I think of you as one of the premiere Trek directors, but stop pushing my buttons so obviously. I suppose it's the script's fault as well, which starts with Burnham's last message to the Discovery being recorded for what she thinks is posterity, when it's interrupted just before it's almost done and sent by a signal from the ship. How convenient. And then the music keeps pushing this big heartfelt, inspirational vibe every time someone makes a speech... and they make quite a few of them. Burnham graciously giving Saru the captaincy (making him the first non-human captain to head a show), the portentous jump to Earth, Burnham putting a uniform on Booker, Stamets making friends with Adira, Michael accepting the First Officer post, the human crew hugging the Academy tree (is this the same one Picard and Wesley made us of?)... One or two of these, acceptable. So many just felt cheesy.

Thing is, these moments work without the big musical nerve pinch, especially in retrospect given Burnham's claim that she "let go" of certain things over the last year. She gives up the captain's chair because she doesn't know if she even wants to stay aboard. She's not with the crew at the tree, but then she didn't grow up on Earth. But do we buy her change of personality? She just spent a year obsessing over finding the ship, and it only made her want to leave it? I don't know about that. Especially given the fact there apparently WASN'T a romance with Book during that time to motivate her (i.e. forging a bond with someone else), though the dialog may hint at something unrequited or aborted between them. Tilly's remark about her looking "lighter" is a more crucial clue. Over the first two seasons, the burden on Michael was always quite heavy - charged with mutiny, demoted, brought back to deal with the Klingons, then the whole thing with her mother interfering with history as the Red Angel... Has the past year been cleansing? It's not that she's become more hardened, but rather that she's been able to forget her troubles. I certainly welcome a more relaxed (and again, her hairstyle says something about her), and less angst-ridden Burnham. I do still question her going rogue and not trusting Saru - audience manipulation to create false tension and keep secrets from use - and since there's no real danger of the show's star actually leaving, the stakes aren't quite as spelled out. After a short awkward phase, I'm sure her friendships with Saru and Tilly will go back to normal, as will her toxic mother-daughter relationship with Georgiou (who is here interviewing Michael's potential boyfriend, but also not joining in the family hugs).

She claims a crisis of faith after discovering the Federation collapsed, but the episode's plot shows her to be believer after all (and showing that, she eventually consents to being Saru's First Officer). A fight between Earth and dilithium raiders turns out to be a big misunderstanding caused by Earth's isolationism. The raiders play intimidation games with alien helmets and weird interference on their coms (for a minute, I thought they were Tholians, who, all canon considered, are the frontrunners as the Burn's creation, but the writers may not be thinking that way), but in the end, they're a human colony from Titan, abandoned and desperate (I guess the first clue was the episode's title). Only Discovery's presence allows actual people to talk to each other (where automated weapons systems would have normally handled everything), and the idea that we are stronger together, and the importance of forging mutually beneficial relationships ultimately win the day. Earth may no longer be part of the Federation, but here a link with one of its colonies is restored, and so is a little bit of the Federation, or at least, its ethos. Cue original Trek fanfare.

Of course, the encounter shows just how out of date Discovery is. People can beam in even with its shields up. The cover story about being an old generational ship doesn't really hold up to scrutiny. They're not working with a full crew; the memorial to fallen personnel tells the tale (and reminds us of Battlestar Galactica in an episode where the ship is also seeking Earth). And hey, its dilithium store is bound to make it a target for raiders, just to be on the unsafe side. It's a wonder it could survive a torpedo hit when Saru decided to keep the peace by acting as a shield (note Detmer's discomfort, keep her subplot in mind).

Earth's Defense Force doesn't really come off as much more than a blunt instrument, so Discovery could have gotten away with it. It takes a special mind, and the one person who actually rumbles them is Adira, Star Trek's first non-binary character. At least according to press releases (and the actor's own gender identity). The 16-year-old genius is referred to as "she" by Tilly and Stamets, but Adira may correct them later. I sure hope they actually ARE non-binary, and it's not a result of having a Trill symbiont in their belly (formerly implanted in the Starfleet Admiral who sent out a message 12 years prior), perhaps a problem associated with a human having to take on a "worm". That would be a cheat. Their moodiness can well be a Trill trait, however; Adira is arrogant as an antagonist early on, but more Ezri-like later. No matter what, Adira will prove important to Discovery's quest to find what's left of the Federation. She's in, and simultaneously, Book is out, but one imagines, not for long. There are too many questions surrounding him (from the cat to his having a name like Cleveland Booker but not being human).

Another question I have is regarding the line about his being able to make a fresh start in a "new quadrant". Just where did the first two episodes take place?! Earth is on the border of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, and said to be too far to travel to except via spore drive (Discovery's only real advantage in this century), yet everyone we saw was from an Alpha or Beta Quadrant race (and mostly from early Federation space, peoples Archer - ARCHER! - met in the old Warp 4.5 days. Obviously, we don't know how far the Federation was able to spread in the intervening centuries, and if you look at official Star Trek star charts, you'll find explored space is tiny indeed. So being deep in the Beta Quadrant, say on the other side of Gorn space (who get referenced), could be far enough from Earth, nominally in the Alpha Quadrant, to make sense of the comment. But then, what happened to the Klingon and Romulan Empires that used to dominate that part of space? Romulus was certainly in trouble by Star Trek: Picard, but it's a notable absence. Were we, perhaps, in a Gamma Quadrant where Alpha Quadrant peoples proliferated via the Bajoran Wormhole? If we ARE in the Alpha Quadrant, far from the courier networks of wherever we have been, what does that mean for the future? Cardassians? Bajorans? Ferengi? Breen? THOLIANS?! (I'll keep harping on that last one until it happens.) As Chancellor Gorkon would say, to the undiscovered country - the future!

LESSON:
Never judge a book by its inhuman alien head.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Frakes directs this one like a ham, but he needn't have. We're intrigued enough by the fate of Earth, the introduction of Adira, and the use of Trek values to make this episode work without all the schmaltz.

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