“People of Earth” further solidifies the third-season status quo, as Starfleet takes its first tentative steps towards flourishing in a future that has all but forgotten it.
This recap of Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 3, “People of Earth”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
It’s difficult to put a finger on where exactly Star Trek: Discovery is going in this very different third season, but “People of Earth” gives a much better idea than the prior two episodes. At first, it seemed like Michael reuniting with the Discovery’s crew was going to take a while, but she cropped up at the end of last week’s “Far From Home”. It would have been reasonable to assume that returning to Earth would be the next long-term goal, but nope, thanks to Stamets and the spore drive, they can get there in seconds. It’s what they find there that helps to define the overarching objective as the rebuilding of Starfleet in a future desperately in need of its core values; as rediscovering hope in a hopeless world blighted by thus-far unexplainable calamity.
Fitting! In typical Star Trek fashion, “People of Earth” also doubles as a political allegory for the on-going debate around isolationism, one incensed by a global pandemic and the upcoming U.S. Presidential elections featuring a candidate for whom aggressive anti-immigration policy has been a lynchpin of their administration. Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Trek, of all things, would depict a post-Federation Earth as a paranoid independent state with a literal border wall encircling it. Fitting it may be, but subtle it is not.
Nevertheless, it all works in a storytelling sense, which I suppose is what matters. Michael’s beaming aboard the Discovery and providing a heap of exposition is treated as a momentous, emotional reunion, as it deserves, and also neatly tees up the episode’s immediate objective: With the spore drive, everyone can hop-skip to Earth in pursuit of the 12-year-old transmission from Starfleet Admiral Tal. The only problem – or, at least, the most pressing problem – is that nobody on or around Earth is happy to see them.
Another problem is that Michael has spent a whole year being a courier with Book, which has allowed her to take the 32nd century’s temperature but also required her to basically abandon hope that the Discovery would ever find her. We have no idea what she got up to in that time, but whatever it was has altered – perhaps irrevocably – both how she sees the world and her relationship with the rest of her crew. To make this clear, “People of Earth” has her essentially go rogue with Book to help solve a dispute, relying on Saru to simply trust her. The fact he does says more about him as a captain than it does about Michael’s reliability; living in this lawless frontier has obviously made her a bit of a maverick, and Starfleet doesn’t necessarily value those.
But Saru – and to some extent Tilly – react to this in a very Starfleet way, embodying the values of patience and understanding that have historically been so integral to the Star Trek franchise in giving Michael the time and space she needs to reacclimatize to a more ordered way of doing things. This is also apparent in the resolution of a B-plot that finds Earth being beset by a band of Titan raiders. The raiders, it turns out, are humans who had originally settled a research colony on Saturn’s moon. When an accident detonated their self-sufficiency, they turned to Earth for help and were fired upon, and took to raiding ever since. It’s a misunderstanding, at its core, and in taking the diplomatic approach, Saru and Michael are able to allow both parties to understand that and come to more beneficial terms. It’s the first step in rebuilding; in filtering out the reflexive hostility that has come to define this vision of the future.
In many ways, Saru is the perfect Starfleet captain to facilitate this, since he has always been defined by his calmness and empathy. It’s fitting that Starfleet’s first alien captain is also the most broadly understanding and tolerant, both of his crew and of the various combustible situations he lopes into. It also creates a good dynamic between him, loose cannon Michael, and openly anarchic Georgiou, who doesn’t get much opportunity for mischief-making here but makes no secret of the fact she’ll indulge in it at the earliest opportunity.
In all the excitement of a gradually rekindling galactic hope, we mustn’t overlook the arrival of a new character in non-binary smarty-pants Adira, who also happens to be carrying the Trill symbiont of Admiral Tal, making them the best lead thus far of deciphering what caused the Burn and what happened to the Federation in its aftermath. Adira isn’t given too much to do in “People of Earth”, but their interactions with Stamets are immediately compelling, and should make for a fruitful dynamic moving forwards.
And the show must, inevitably, move forwards, which in many ways is the point of this episode. Starfleet may be gone in this future, its values abandoned, but like the enduring tree that Tilly gets to stand beneath at the very end, good can grow even in the face of terrible pain and nihilism. Hope can blossom once again, and the spirit of kindness and cooperation can bloom in even the driest dirt. In diverting so far from the established canon, Star Trek: Discovery has become more Star Trek than ever.
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