“Die Trying” is the longest episode of the season thus far, but also the sloppiest — hopefully from here it’ll take come time to slow down a little.
This recap of Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 5, “Die Trying”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Welcome to the 32nd Century, folks, where every major narrative development must be contained within a single episode. That’s how it feels, anyway – whatever you might think of the latest season of Star Trek: Discovery, you can’t fault it for pace. We saw Michael Burnham and then the Discovery get here an episode apart, then find each other and a Federation Admiral and now, in “Die Trying”, the Federation itself. And we’re only on the fifth episode!
The Federation is in pretty good nick, all things considered, though tt’s smaller, obviously, and more secretive, and naturally mistrustful of these random strangers who claim to be from the distant past. The hook of “Die Trying” is whether this new version of the Federation is even capable of being what Saru and Michael and the rest of the Discovery expect them to be – need them to be, even. It isn’t simply a case that they’re evil or useless now, even though they could have been, but that they’ve been relentlessly battered by both the Burn and its lawless fallout.
The main mouthpiece for this new version of the Federation is Admiral Vance, who is desperately trying to maintain some order and authority even though he’s clearly clueless about how best to proceed. His first obviously terrible idea is to separate all the Discovery’s crew, which makes no sense on any level but is treated as particularly dangerous given last week’s thorough examination of the crew’s mental wellbeing. Instead, Michael and Saru butt heads a little over the best approach, but decide, together, to prove their usefulness to the Federation – and the Federation’s usefulness to the wider galaxy, especially with a ship boasting a plot-convenient magic-mushroom fast-travel drive – by playing by Saru’s diplomatic rules.
The Discovery’s spore drive immediately comes in useful in that regard, since it’s the only ship with the capability of hot-stepping to a Federation seed vault vessel which contains an important life-saving curative for a group of diseased alien refugees. It’s classic and rather unimaginative fetch-quest business on the surface, but as well as its utility in the overarching plot it’s a good excuse to explore Barzan culture through the lens of Commander Nhan, whose name I must confess to having had to look up for the purposes of this recap.
Discovery’s general unwillingness to flesh out its crewmen in favor of having Michael be front-and-center all the time isn’t exactly a new problem, but I thought this subplot suffered for it here in “Die Trying” since I didn’t feel like I knew enough or cared enough about Nhan to really grasp her regrets at having left her homeworld behind or her ultimate decision to remain and – perhaps temporarily – leave the Discovery’s crew. This whole subplot, about a Barzan father attempting to save his already-dead family by keeping them in stasis aboard the ship, felt very light on the exact kind of cultural unpacking it was supposed to be doing. I can’t say I left the episode knowing any more about the Barzans’ attitude to death than I did before, which was admittedly very little.
I do respect the effort, though, and of course, characters that belong to an alien culture should be making their decisions in the context of that culture – but “Die Trying” is in such a hurry that it doesn’t quite manage to make the point coherently. What it does manage to do, though, is establish a macro goal for the season, which is obviously the gradual rebuilding of the Federation and the reaffirming of its core values in a newer, much more hostile world, with both its past and future meeting in the middle. That’s on-brand as such things go; a long-term project of cooperation, putting differences aside and uniting in a shared sense of purpose for the greater good. Perhaps now that the third season has raced to this point, it’ll find a moment to slow down and explore real relationships and identities alongside the galaxy – perhaps starting, given everything that happened here, with Emperor Georgiou?
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