'Star Trek: Discovery' Season 3 Episode 5 Review: Finding the Federation finally feels like the future
The future is bright, but its prospects aren't, as the crew of the Discovery have a hard time convincing Federation HQ of their worth
The big draw of this season of 'Star Trek: Discovery' has been the future. Not ten, not fifty, not a hundred years into the future, but nearly an entire millennium. The USS Discovery launched itself 930 years into the future, but so far, that future has been underwhelming. Technology seems to have stagnated in the wake of the Burn, making it feel like only a few decades had passed on every planet that the Discovery has been visiting the last few episodes. In this episode, however, as the Discovery finds Federation headquarters, things finally start to feel like the future that was promised and the crew has got a lot of adjustment to do.
Using the coordinates supplied by Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio), the Discovery makes its way to the headquarters of the Federation and are awed by the advancements in science that they find there. Adira, Saru (Doug Jones) and Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) meet with Admiral Charles Vance (Oded Fehr), Starfleet's Commander-in-Chief, who is distrustful of the Discovery and its crew, as their wiped records leave him unable to verify their story in any way. In order to prove themselves, Burnham volunteers the ship and its instant-travel spore drive to help with a medical mission, one that takes them to a seed vault that hits Nhan (Rachael Ancheril) especially close to home. It's a successful mission, but though the Discovery is now accepted by Vance, they're a long way from making a home for themselves in the future.
In a lot of ways, this episode feels like the one that the entire season is hinging on. The past four episodes have been setting this up and now that 'Discovery' has gotten here, it feels like the true heart of this season's story can now be explored. What really caused the Burn and how can the Federation heal itself from being quite so thoroughly decimated by it? Charles Vance composes himself like a leader who has been handling a state of emergency for a very long while, with no end in sight, and it really underlines just how much hope the crew of the Discovery are bringing to the future. Even though the show has prepared us for it, it's still a surprise just how harsh and unwelcoming the Federation is on first impression.
The show also finally manages to make it feel like 930 years have actually passed. One of the strengths of 'Discovery' is a special effects budget that no prior 'Star Trek' shows have benefitted from and it takes full advantage of this with the Federation HQ reveal being a truly breathtaking spectacle. It's a great example of both show and tell, as various officers of Discovery call out marvels of technology that were in their time considered only theoretical - from organic spaceships, to flying rainforests, to ships composed entirely out of holographic solids, much like that found on the holodeck, all of which has staggering implications that the crew have no time to explore.
It's not just the technology that's made the jump, however. Offhand mentions about history and planets that have joined the Federation in the centuries in between finally make this universe feel lived in, hinting at larger histories that have been missed - actual progress, the kind that does take centuries to get through. It's only a glimpse, but it's the kind that the show's been missing so far.
The episode is split between the meeting with the Federation HQ and the mission to the seed vault, effectively splitting this into what feels like two separate episodes - one that has larger implications for the season as a whole and a smaller story more in keeping with the more classic strange-science-of-the-week format of 'Star Trek' shows. Both parts are strong in their own right, bursting with sentimentality and the optimism that this season of 'Discovery' is rife with. More than any other 'Star Trek' series, 'Discovery' wears its heart on its sleeve, and it's really hit its stride in terms of telling strong stories with it.
It's a season-defining episode, paying off a lot of what was built up and laying down several important plot details
The next episode of 'Star Trek: Discovery' airs November 19, on CBS All Access.