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Michael Burnham Takes Command Star Trek: Discovery For Ol’ Fashioned Caper In Die Trying

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BY November 12, 2020
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The first four episodes of this season of Star Trek: Discovery have taken their time in setting up the new normal for the series. Cast nearly 1,000 years into the future, the crew has to find their place in a galaxy that looks very different from the one they left. In Die Trying, the crew of Discovery goes on an old-fashioned Star Trek caper to prove their worth. What’s most remarkable about the episode is that Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham takes command, legally this time, for a significant portion of it. While she’s not “the captain” in this series, Die Trying shows that she could be.

Much of the episode is dedicated to a mission that felt very much like an standalone episode of Star Trek, the original series. The crew is tasked with going to a weird place, finding a weird thing, and solving a weird problem. Once they get where they need to go, they find out there’s another weird problem that’s also heartbreaking. The crew ultimately has to make a tough decision with difficult moral considerations. And, while it’s a bit of a spoiler, they do it all without firing their weapons once.

As I noted in my review of the premiere episode, Star Trek: Discovery is aiming for hopeful and Die Trying is no different. While not shying away from issues with sociopolitical subtext, the series seems to be coming at these problems from a different angle. Rather than ratcheting up tension with hopelessness and fear, they’re leaning into aspirational storytelling about a group of true believers. Put more simply: this show feels like a Star Trek show now. It’s a story about remarkably capable people balancing their actions with both their intellect and their hearts.

Spoilers to follow.

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Michael Burnham Takes Command In Star Trek: Discovery, Die Trying

Star Trek Discovery Die Trying “Die Trying” — Ep#305 — Pictured: Rachael Ancheril as Commander Nhan of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The highlight of the episode is the away mission, which takes up most of the final three acts of the episode. Captain Saru, played by Doug Jones, is left behind leaving his First Officer, Burnham, in command. They finally found the Federation, but naturally the people there are skeptical of the time-traveling ship. They reveal there’s been a temporal war going on, which matches past Star Trek canon. (It also can explain away all these timelines.) So, the Discovery has to prove themselves with this very Star Trek mission or die trying.

Burnham handles herself well on the bridge, especially while dealing with two sassy 32nd-century security officers giving her grief. The crew handles themselves well in the face of an ion storm, rescuing a ship that contains a seed which is the cure for a new disease the modern-day Federation can’t cure. While there, they find a scientist driven mad with grief by the death of his family. He fights them, they save him. However, he chooses to remain on the ship (and thus die) because he doesn’t want to leave his family. Rachel Ancheril’s Commander Nhan stays behind to see them home.

Burnham, however, wants to rescue the grieving scientist against his well. Nhan, a Barzan like the scientist, disagrees because of cultural differences between her species and humans. It’s a classic Trek dilemma, wherein the principle of self-determination clashes against the Federation, literally, know what is logically best for folks.

The New Status Quo for Star Trek: Discovery

Star Trek Discovery Die Trying “Die Trying” — Ep#305 — Pictured: Ronnie Rowe Jr. as Lt. Bryce of the CBS All Access series STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

This series gives us a few hints about the larger arc of the season, specifically that the Discovery crew will be the ones who solve the mystery of “the Big Burn.” This unexplained event destroyed all the fuel for warp engines. Thus, while Discovery is a 1,000-year-old ship, its spore drive means it can travel further and faster than any other. Naturally, this will make them a target for the baddies, but that’s not what they are thinking about.

Since the start of the season their mission has been to bring hope back to a people who lost everything in the Big Burn. Imagine being only ever able to travel on foot, and there’s no phones or internet. This is how the galaxy has been distanced from one another, and Discovery can connect them again. (Why Starfleet doesn’t immediately start building spore drive ships I don’t know, but perhaps we’ll get there by season’s end.)

Discovery is now the last vessel in Starfleet carrying on its founding mission, to explore strange new worlds and so on. This is the perfect story device to continue telling Discovery-like stories but adding that X-fact that makes a thing Star Trek. Given the quality of the first half of this season, this series seems to finally found its place in the canon and is ready to blaze its own path across Star Trek history.

What did you think of Star Trek: Discovery, Die Trying? Share your thoughts, reactions, and reviews in the comments.

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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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