Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 12 recap – “There Is A Tide…” chain reaction

January 1, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
CBS All Access, Weekly TV
3.5

Summary

“There Is A Tide…” makes an effort to complicate the relationship between the Federation and the Emerald Chain, as the Discovery’s crew work to free themselves and the ship from captivity.

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3.5

Summary

“There Is A Tide…” makes an effort to complicate the relationship between the Federation and the Emerald Chain, as the Discovery’s crew work to free themselves and the ship from captivity.

This recap of Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 12, “There Is A Tide…”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.


Star Trek: Discovery did something I didn’t expect in “There Is A Tide…”, which is attempt to justify or at least rationalize the activities of the Emerald Chain and Osyraa. I suppose it would have been too obvious for the genocidal syndicate to sneak inside Federation headquarters and initiate a hostile takeover, as they did aboard Discovery, but it still felt like a bit of a shock when what has until now been a one-note villain sat down with Admiral Vance and proposed… the Chain joining the Federation?

Some broader context is required in order to understand this development, and I wouldn’t say the third season in its totality has done a particularly good job in providing it, but “There Is A Tide…” at least gives it a go. It isn’t just about portraying the ostensibly benevolent Federation as a more morally complex entity, but framing the post-Burn future as a hive of scum and villainy in which people wouldn’t just be susceptible to a network of criminality but also probably thankful for the power, resources, and research that such a monopoly can provide. The episode is careful not to excuse or hand-wave away the slavery, racism, exploitation, and murder we’ve seen the Chain commit thus far, but to understand that such things are seen as the price to be paid for the various upsides.

This isn’t an easy idea to swallow, but it’s a much more entertaining one than the alternative. It doesn’t just give Osyraa and the Chain some contours but the Federation, too, and we have to ponder how much their inaction in the face of crises, even for justifiable reasons, has done as much if not more harm to galactic stability than the obviously heinous and self-serving stuff the Chain has been up to. Good sci-fi does this rather than just reflect a simplistic moral fable, and while Discovery isn’t always good sci-fi, I appreciate the effort even in fits and starts. And Osyraa is a better villain when she’s actively questioning the structures that she exists in opposition to. Is giving a lie detector the appearance of “neutrality” by making it look human in a galaxy of diverse species really prioritizing the many, as the Federation claims to do, or just reinforcing a superiority complex?

This is why someone like Aurelio, Osyraa’s chief scientist, can see her as somewhat altruistic in stepping in to save him from a genetic defect and remain completely, almost laughably oblivious to what the Chain really gets up to. His job in “There Is A Tide…” is to determine how the spore drive works in relation to Stamets, and he’s immediately presented as being somewhat apart from the rest of the Chain’s thugs, so he makes a nice foil for Stamets, who’s quick to tell him how blind and easily manipulable he is. His little mini-arc here seems to me like it’s going to pay off in next week’s finale, especially after the moment in which he sees Osyraa execute Ryn in cold blood. Again, it’s daft that he’d be so blissfully unaware of this sort of thing just so the plot can excuse this moment, but if you try and look past that the moment does work on its own terms, so fair enough.

The reason this penultimate episode works a lot better than last week’s is that it tethers its underlying thematic point – in this case how everything exists in an unavoidable socio-political context – to a pretty exciting action setup that also doubles as Tilly’s long-awaited (and predicted) moment to prove herself a leader. Bringing the pirate Zareh back at the leader of Osyraa’s so-called “regulators” is perhaps a bit too on-the-nose as a metaphor for learning from and correcting past mistakes, and the script makes him super dumb to accommodate the arc, but several of the moments of the bridge crew and Michael turning the tables on their captors just flat-out work, so I’m willing to be lenient, and the eventual reveal that the Sphere data has fully integrated with Discovery, gained sentience, and now speaks in the voice is Zora is a cool development.

It’s almost a shame that Michael and Book were able to get back aboard Discovery so easily since, despite the fun of Michael’s Die Hard adventure through the bowels of the ship, it also makes for a bit of a weird moment in which she elects to jettison Stamets from the ship so that Osyraa can’t use the spore drive, and the whole thing just feels a bit contrived to put Michael in an unearned moral quandary. Since we left several characters back there, all roads lead back to the dilithium planet in the Verubin Nebula, which is where Stamets wanted to go to save Culber and Saru and Adira – we also know that Osyraa can get there using the same courier subspace tunnels that Michael and Book used to catch up with the Discovery in this episode, so she doesn’t actually need the spore drive to get there, and I don’t know, man. This just feels like the show bending over backward to let Michael do a Michael, and that’s rarely ever the best thing for anyone, let alone Michael herself.


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