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In Scavengers, Star Trek: Discovery Lets Us Know It’s Not Changing That Much

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BY November 18, 2020
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Some stories are supposed to be frustrating. One of the best ways to achieve this is to tell a story where most of the major conflicts could be resolved by a little trust and a short conversation. The sixth episode of Star Trek: Discovery season 2, Scavengers, is one of those stories. In a way, this episode seems designed to remind audiences that, as far the storytellers are concerned, they don’t feel like they have anything to apologize for. Yes, from the premiere episode this season and even through last week, the series took on a new tone that more closely harmonizes with the Star Trek series that came before. Yet, this week, they echo one of their earliest and most controversial decisions and there are clear ramifications.

There was a small time-jump in this episode, just long enough to outfit the USS Discovery with some high-tech upgrades. We guessed this would happen the moment we first watched the Star Trek: Discovery trailer earlier this year. What’s interesting is that even though nearly 1,000 years separates the ship’s technology and the Federation’s, it blends together seamlessly. (At least, for now.) In fact, with these upgrades, the Discovery is again one of the most powerful ships in Starfleet.

Still the focus of Scavengers is more focused on the Discovery crew then the larger Star Trek of it all. Two characters in particular face things that echo decisions they’ve made in the past. One of them shows some significant growth, whereas the other shows not nearly enough. It’s a reminder to the audience that while the show may be more hopeful and aspirational, there is still plenty of drama to mine amongst the foibles of the individual crew.

Spoilers to follow.

The Scavengers in This Star Trek: Discovery Episode Are All Over the Place

Star Trek Discovery Scavengers” — Ep#306 — Pictured: Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Michelle Yeoh as Georgiou of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The title of the episode stems from the enemies that Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham and Michelle Yeoh’s Philippa Georgiou face off against. David Ajala’s Cleveland Booker also returns, as the series makes clear that the relationship between him and Burnham is romantic. Booker is captured on a mission for Burnham, trying to locate “black boxes” from Federation ships that will give them insight into the “Big Burn.” He sends a message to Burnham which she interprets as a call for help. She asks Doug Jones’ Captain Saru to allow her to go on a rescue mission. He orders her not to, given their tenuous relationship with Starfleet. She goes anyway.

Her decision to ignore direct orders is a direct callback to the pilot episode where she committed mutiny. This was a controversial decision because it showed a lack of faith in the structure of Starfleet we’d not really seen before. Sure, Kirk and Picard went rogue all the time, but they were Captains. If Spock or Riker ever tried to take the Enterprise by force to start a war, fans would be upset. Luckily, Burnham is disobeying orders to save a life, but doing so costs her the rank of First Officer.

In a way, all the characters in Star Trek: Discovery are scavengers. The modern Starfleet is forced to scavenge old ships and tech in order to keep the more condensed Federation afloat. The Discovery crew are scavengers, hunting for more than just new tech. They need a home and to belong to something larger than themselves. Burnham’s desire to solve the Big Burn is her way of moving everyone past this scavenging stage and putting the galaxy back on course. She does it the only way she knows how, orders be damned.

Stamets Makes a New Friend In Adira (and Gray Tal, Kind Of)

“Scavengers” — Ep#306 — Pictured: Anthony Rapp as Lt. Paul Stamets, Ian Alexander as Gray and Blu del Barrio as Adira of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This season of Star Trek: Discovery is already historic because it includes the first trans and non-binary characters in the universe, played by actors who identify as such. Since joining the crew of the Discovery, Blu Del Barrio’s Adira kept mostly to herself. This is because she saved the memories and “soul” of her deceased boyfriend, Gray Tal played by Ian Alexander. Thanks to some sci-fi magic associated with being a Trill, she essentially can still see and talk to him. Thus, rather than making friends, she’s been off talking to “herself.” Luckily, this is a thing Anthony Rapp’s Paul Stamets knows a thing or two about.

In the second season, much of his story focused on him holding on to the memory of his murdered husband, Wilson Cruz’s Hugh Culber. Eventually, Hugh ended up being brought back to life (again, sci-fi magic). Yet, while Stamets is often standoffish and damn-near unkind, he took a different approach in this circumstance. Not only was he able to get Adira to open up to him, but he also believed her. When she described the impossible thing happening to her, he didn’t question it. Cranky banter is part of the character, to an insufferable degree when Tig Notaro’s Commander Reno is involved. Yet, it’s nice to see Stamets move beyond that. (Too many shows, not just Star Trek: Discovery, confuse dickishness for wit.)

The dynamic between Adira and Gray Tal is interesting, but one wonders how long they can pull that off. My guess is not all that long. However, Battlestar Galactica did it for a very long time with characters played by Tricia Helfer and James Callis.

What Scavengers Means for the Future of Star Trek: Discovery

Star Trek Discovery Scavengers” — Ep#306 — Pictured: Sonequa Martin-Green as Burnham and Michelle Yeoh as Georgiou of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

It’s clear that Michael Burnham’s heart is being pulled in the direction of Cleveland Booker. In fact, she may be considering resigning from Starfleet. In the final seconds of the episode, after she was demoted to just science officer, Burnham removed her comm (and transporter, apparently) badge. This could signal that she’s weighing staying with Discovery or being her own captain again, like she was for the year she spent in the future without them. The trajectory fans want (or should want, anyway) is for her to regain her position as Number One. But deciding not to be is just the sort of frustrating decision the storytellers may want her to make.

The other questions all lie with Georgiou. She still seems able to do pretty much whatever she wants with no consequences. (Though, the mystery man played by David Cronenberg may have something to say about that.) Her place in this future Federation is still uncertain, which could mean that she’s gearing up for the spinoff series they’ve been talking about since the first season.

The other major concern is this flashback she keeps having, this time paralyzing her in the midst of a fight. It seems fairly obvious that it’s a memory of either killing her Burnham or her Burnham trying to kill her. Either way, it’s set up to be something major for the character to deal with. Again, it could be the catalyst to send her off from Discovery onto her own series.

What did you think of Scavengers and what do you think it means for the future of Star Trek: Discovery? Share your thoughts, theories, and reviews of the episode in the comments below!

Featured image Cr: Michael Gibson/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. The first books he read on his own were comics, and he's loved the medium ever since. He is the greatest star-pilot in the galaxy, a cunning warrior, and a good friend. His book "What I Learned: Stories, Essays, and More" is available in print from Amazon and from all electronic booksellers.

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