Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 8 recap – “The Sanctuary” meeting of minds

December 4, 2020
Jonathon Wilson 0
TV Recaps
3

Summary

“The Sanctuary” was a mediocre trip to Book’s suspiciously empty homeworld which felt like a notable step down after last week.

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3

Summary

“The Sanctuary” was a mediocre trip to Book’s suspiciously empty homeworld which felt like a notable step down after last week.

This recap of Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 8, “The Sanctuary”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.


Coming hot on the heels of the best episode of the season, it was always going to be hard for “The Sanctuary” to not feel like a step down in quality. And while it certainly had its moments, I also suspect it would have been a middling episode of Discovery by any metric since it leaves so many obvious questions unanswered and seems to give in to flashy action and contrivance rather than work out a richer solution for any of the various problems that the Discovery’s crew encounter. It does manage to introduce the season’s Big Bad, though – better late than never! – and leave a couple of subplots dangling for the next couple of episodes. It’s a fine, functional middle chapter with some fun set-pieces, it’s just light on important information that would have probably made the whole thing much more engaging had it been included – or, you know, at least considered.

The tease for next week, by the way, is the worsening and potentially fatal brain degeneration of Phillipa Georgiou, which wasn’t spared much time in “The Sanctuary” but nonetheless made for some of the best dialogue exchanges in the episode between Georgiou and Culber, whom she reluctantly allows to examine her. I actually think these two make for a better double act than Culber and Stamets at this point, who spend some time here fussing over Adira, who finally makes their pronouns clear and officially comes out as nonbinary away from the Trill symbiont metaphor. Since Stamets did so well at being understanding last week when Adira confessed to being able to communicate with their dead boyfriend, he has taken to smilingly looming around and dispensing sage LGBTQ+ wisdom, often unasked for. It’s a weird flex and suggests to me that this season’s writers don’t actually have anything interesting for him to do plot-wise, since even the algorithm which deciphers a hidden message in a Federation distress beacon at the origin point of the Burn was designed by Adira.

Anyway, the bulk of “The Sanctuary” is devoted to the Emerald Chain and Book’s home planet of Kwejian, and we get a bit of explanation about how the two relate to each other when the away mission has to be justified to Vance. The Chain’s grift works thusly: They turn up on a pre-warp planet that has some kind of precious resource they’d like to exploit, and they offer to help them out with whatever problem they might have in exchange for that resource, thus locking the entire planet into a form of indentured servitude enforceable by lifetime contracts and, as we see this week, simply bombing a planet’s surface from orbit. The current figurehead of the Chain is Osyraa, the square-headed green-skinned relative of Tolor, the scavenger planet’s overseer from a couple of episodes back, who she feeds to a trance worm as penance for allowing the slave riot that resulted in Ryn’s escape.

Trance worms, it turns out, are Kwejian’s precious resource, and the Chain has been selling them off-world as a delicacy in exchange for providing a repellent that dissuades the native “sea locusts” – little blue balloon creatures – from venturing further inland and eating all the planet’s crops, which they have been doing ever since the Burn knocked one of the planet’s moons off-kilter and played havoc with the tides. Since this deal with the devil is what compelled Book to leave the planet in the first place, Osyraa’s point of contact on Kwejian is Book’s brother, Kahim, so it’s a good old family reunion, and Michael is also present since he has to introduce her to the rest of the clan at some point and she has to be front-and-center of every single episode, one assumes contractually.

This is where, for me, the weird questions begin cropping up. For one thing, what kind of population does the so-called Sanctuary even serve at this point, since we see very little of Kwejian and meet almost nobody who lives there except Kahim and his henchmen. It’s established he and Book aren’t really brothers, like biologically, but they’re both empaths, which implies it’s a talent innate to the species, only if that was the case the eventual sea locust solution would have been arrived at ages ago since all it really amounts to is Book and Kahim politely asking them to move. (The Discovery amplifies the electromagnetic field like on Kaminar, but that’s what it boils down to.)

Back on the Discovery, Saru, who has little to do in “The Sanctuary” beyond trial different potential catchphrases, makes an uncharacteristically stupid decision in authorizing a direct attack against Osyraa and the Chain despite being ordered by Vance only to observe. He does a good job trying to justify this decision in terms of the Federation’s own stated principles and to be honest, I don’t actually disagree with him, but the idea that anyone would be fooled by the plan Tilly comes up with, which is to send Detmer and Ryn out in Book’s ship to destroy the Chain’s flagship’s weak points video game-style, is ridiculous. This wasn’t Starfox 64 the last time I checked, and even despite that, simply not using an official Federation vessel to carry out the attack is hardly a layered scheme when everybody knows Book lives in the Discovery’s shuttle bay. There is no way Saru can play dumb about this and still be taken remotely seriously, so I’m looking forward to the gymnastics that’ll allow that to happen next week.

Ryn, I should mention, is the entire reason that Osyraa is bombing Kwejian, since, as we learn later, he’s privy to a secret: The Emerald Chain is running out of dilithium. This is another narrative thread for later episodes to tug on, along with the cause of the Burn, and who exactly that Federation distress signal at its apparent source belongs to. What I’m perhaps most curious about, though, is what the Federation has actually been up to over the centuries that Discovery skipped over since Osyraa’s dialogue suggests a fair amount of blood on their hands, and so does Ryn’s, though “The Sanctuary” later implies that he just swallowed a lot of rumors on face value and the Federation has been just swell all along. Who even knows at this point? I suspect even the show’s writers don’t. Either way, it’ll be interesting to find out.


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